Have you ever heard someone say, “I had a great idea when I was taking a shower this morning”? I have heard this expression on countless occasions, so many times in fact I no longer think it’s a coincidence. Let’s face it, it’s one of the only times during our day when we are alone and not being bombarded by sound. We can actually listen to ourselves. Try spending time alone with yourself, minus the cell phone or television. Our interior selves serve as good guides for making wise choices. Is there any place or time other than the shower where you can hear yourself? Let me know.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopalian priest and theologian wrote a book entitled, An Alter In the World, whose subtitle reads, “A Geography of Faith”. She says…
“The last place most people look for God is right under their feet in the everyday activities, accidents and encounters of their lives. What possible significance could a trip to the grocery store have? How could something as common as a toothache be a door to a greater life? No one longs for what he or she already has. She suggests that the reason so many people can’t find the red X that marks the spot in our pursuit of a spiritual life is because we are standing on it.
An Alter in the World talks about how when she was younger she thought there was one particular thing she was supposed to do with her life. She queried God as to what that purpose might be. She searched for a place in which to pray, finding a fire escape that hung precariously from the side of a deserted mansion next door to the divinity school. It turned out to be an excellent place to pray. It was there she finally heard God’s voice. “One night when my whole heart was open to hearing God, God said, “Anything that pleases you.” On one hand this answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again. God really did not care what I chose to do with my life. It was how I did it that mattered. God was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning than I was going to have to apply the purpose myself.
She goes on to say any spiritual treasures to be found can only be found in the bodily experiences of human life on earth. Francis of Assisi read the world as reverently as he read the bible. A singing bird was as much a messenger of God as a cloud of angels. He did not know where to draw the line between the church and the world. St. Francis’ church did not stand as a shelter from the world; it stood as a reminder that the whole world was God’s house. People encounter God under shady oak trees, in the feel and smell of humid salty beach air, or even the grassy banks of an urban park.
Two weeks ago on a Sunday morning my sanctuary was Millenium Park in downtown Chicago. My fellow congregants included my husband, son, daughter-in-law and new granddaughter. I spend so much of my life running at full speed. And I know I’m not alone, so many women I know wear a lot of hats and are simultaneously professionals, employees, moms, wives, daughters, grandmothers, volunteers, and board members. Multi-tasking all of these roles can lead to “multi-taxing” our spirits. I made the conscious decision that morning to pay full attention to the privaledge of spending time with 4 people I love most in the world; to notice that the temperature was in the non humid 80s; how soft the grass was, to notice the magnificance of the skyline along the Miracle Mile that is Michigan Avenue. To listen to the baby gurgles and squeals; to enjoy watching the father my son has become. These are the kind of experiences people wait for all their lives, sometimes paying huge sums to attain. And when they happen, we don’t always pause to be fully present in those moments. I chose to make that Sunday morning an alter in my world.
I think we can have many alters. They can be ephermal, no need for permanence. They can be different colors, or even just experiences.
Let us know about alters in your world.
I love the Joan Osborne song, One of Us. Remember the lyrics-
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make His way home?
If God had a face, what would it look like?
In my mind’s eye I’ve imagined the classic archetypal face of God- a grandfatherly image; white hair, white beard, white body.
There was a certain degree of comfort in knowing a strong, responsible, authority figure looking out for me… protecting me; protecting my family and friends; someone I can appeal to when I’m scared or sick. That is the upside of this kind of authoritarian figure. The downside is the judgment. It’s hard not to imagine a God looking over my shoulder shaking his finger at me for drinking too much wine, behaving like a lunatic when I drive, or gossiping.
Ok, so in the midst of a massage treatment a couple of weeks ago on my anniversary weekend (said anniversary described ad nauseum on facebook) I had a revelation. What if God is really me? Now, I promise, I’m not arguing I’m the first, second, or fifteenth coming of the messiah, this is not about arrogance. Instead, it’s an intensely personal image of God. Kind of like God as my BFF. BFFs aren’t supposed to be judgmental. They love you unconditionally and without judgment (at least that’s the theory).
So my question is, what if God likes board games or even Charades like I do? What if God is a decent golfer? what if God likes to create whimsical, tongue-in-cheek sculptures out of polymer clay? What if God has a sense of humor and likes to laugh. What if God can’t stand movies focusing on physical or emotional cruelty? What if God doesn’t like prison movies? What if God is a little insecure or experiences anxieties about loved ones? What if God is really me? I’m not sure if this revelation is especially comforting or not. In any given crisis, the traditional image of father protector certainly has its advantageous. But perhaps as a grown up I’m chaffing a bit under the stern, even admonishing, gaze of this image of God. Maybe at 62 I’m old enough to revise my version of a god (and, let me be clear, I really do believe in God). I certainly don’t want to argue my new theological theory with people far more familiar with the bible than me. But I do believe in inspired truths. My truth holds there is a god that is accessible and approachable, friendly even, and perhaps a little flawed just like me.
PLEASE COMMENT- I want to know what the face of God looks like in your mind. I’ll post the results on my next blog.
I’m listening to the sound of grass being mowed on a Saturday morning. That sound and its adjacent smell carries me back to childhood summers. My parents could not afford summer camps or elaborate vacations. Our trips typically consisted of five people piled like puppies in a tiny motel efficiency or sleeping on sofas and pallets in the homes of accommodating relatives. But I loved the freedom I felt each summer with its endless hours of unstructured time. My brothers and I spent most of our daylight hours at the Robinswood Recreation Park. I still remember how fortunate we felt to belong. We swam in 45 minute increments after which a whistle signaled adults were afforded swim time unencumbered by splashing, screaming children. There was a patio where I gazed longingly at older teens dancing. i wanted to be one of them, to be in love moving to music… The smell of grilling hamburgers wafted toward the pool area into the nostrils of starving, over exercised kids. Since our membership at this playground was already a stretch on the family budget, lunches from the grill were out of the question…
Nostalgia is an interesting concept. People looking back fondly at a bygone time, even saying things like “life was simpler then”. To a certain degree that is true. Without the benefit of discretionary dollars or 500 channels on the television, we took to our bikes and the pool for recreation and entertainment. But from 12 to 17, our emotional lives were certainly not simple. Hurt feelings and hormones created havoc with our inner lives. I’m much happier in my adult life than I was in my kid life but each summer the memories of freedom and unstructured fun come wafting back just like the smell of those hamburgers so many years ago.
My husband and I spent a considerable portion of this past weekend celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. Friday night we had tickets to see Aint’ Misbehavin’ at the Mad Cow Theater, in downtown Orlando. At least half of the attendees were African American. Looking around, I could not help thinking of the tragedy in Charleston and even of President Obama’s eulogy and rendition of Amazing Grace. Resistance to removing the confederate flag from state capitol grounds literally crumbled in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME massacre. Ebay, Walmart, Amazon, and various flag manufacturers announced they were ceasing making and selling the confederate flag.
As it turned out, my 25th wedding anniversary coincided with the United States Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. In the concluding paragraph of the court’s decision, Justice Kennedy wrote:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness…they ask for equal dignity under the law.” 25 years ago I took for granted my right to marry the man of my dreams. My celebrations this weekend were three-fold: I celebrated my 25 year partnership with my husband; I celebrated that people heretofore denied the right to marry will celebrate their 25th anniversaries in 2040; and I celebrate the removal of an icon that had come to be a symbol of hate and violence.
Regardless of one’s political leanings (and these two issues elicit intense emotional reactions in our society of lefts and rights) this was a weekend of love and kindness. I’m so happy my milestone anniversary coincided with this celebration of love.