Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Wild Abiding God

What a world we live in. What a God we have.

Being created in the image of God, God is uniquely revealed to people. No other creatures know God as we know God. This has led people of all ages and cultures, throughout history, to put a face to God and to worship God. World religions are diverse, but just about all of them speak to the fact that reality is more than what you can see in front of your face. Our wild God will act in the lives of people and gives us moments of experiencing that spiritual truth, right in front of our physical eyes. Even those who proceed in life with the thought that there is no God, will often find themselves in situations that seem otherworldly and mystical. God the Creator will not be chained off from the creatures he created in his image.

I have been reading a fascinating book by the atheist/author/activist/journalist/biologist Barbara Ehrenreich called Living with a Wild God: A Nonbelievers Search for the Truth about Everything.  Its fascinating. Ehrenreich is a lifelong atheist, the daughter of atheists. During the age of Vietnam, while getting her PhD in Biology, she became an activist and organizer and has made a career writing books exposing the "wrongs" of our society by reporting issues from her feminist point-of-view. Only recently though, has she been moved to share with others her "mystical" experiences from her teenage years. (Yes, she does call them mystical.) She writes about them and shares that these experiences revealed to her that nothing could be assumed. While in the midst of those moments it seems as if all of existence was connected and alive.

Ever the scientist and journalist, Ehrenreich is led on a lifelong quest for answers. Looking toward world religions, philosophy, science fiction and medical science, she tried to find answers for what she had experienced, but was never satisfied with what she discovered. She is convinced that her mystical experiences were not out of some bio-chemical imbalance nor were they the result of mental illness. She knows they were factual encounters by a very sane person about truths she is just not able to grasp. She is also convinced that many other people have likewise had similar experiences.

Failing to come up with definitive answers has not suddenly led Barbara to become a believer. She remains steadfast in her rational, scientific view of the world, and refuses to settle for faith and belief. She asks "Why believe when you can know?" So she continues to struggle, pressing on in her search to understand the truth of what happened to her.

As I read her book, and learned more about her descriptions of what she had experienced, I couldn't help but think about God, the Spirit, and the truth that Jesus points us toward. Of course Barbara Ehrenreich will not be swayed by a chapter of John, but for me the words of Christ reveal truth about her experience and even my own experiences of this wild God.

Human beings are not led to faith simply because some idea popped into someone's head. All that we know of God always involves some sort of physical manifestations, epiphanies and signs. God speaks to men and women in the Hebrew Scriptures. God makes things happen... visible things. God definitively is revealed to us through the Messiah who was flesh and bone. He spoke, he touched, he moved, he died. But this Messiah, Jesus, knew that he would not be remaining with his people forever in that way. Much of John's Gospel covers the process of Jesus preparing his followers for the fact that he would not be with them forever as they became used to. He comforts them and reassures them, and us, that he will gives us help... so that we might know the "unknowable" things of God. It will take belief. It will take faith. But Jesus will send us a "Paraclete" to help us, comfort us, inspire us, and be an advocate for us in this hard and confusing world.

This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 
John 14:17

The truth about the universe is that there is so much more than what we can see in front of our face. Truth is so much more than what can be verified through scientific methods. Truth is more than what can verified through historical methods. The Holy Spirit that dwells in us is the Spirit of truth. The Spirit inspires us and guides and opens our eyes to so much.

Of course the world will be encountering the mystical and the mysterious. It's a part of God's creation. What a gift it is that God gives us Christ and the gift of the Paraclete to help us discern whats going on around us. We are free to dwell as both physical and spiritual creatures. We can be voices for the Kingdom of God breaking in.

The word "abide" becomes so important for me here. Already in John's Gospel he has been talking about how we are to live our lives and by what commandments we should follow. Just paragraphs before this text Jesus gives us a new commandment to love one another. Jesus says if you love me you will follow my commandments. Followers of commandments and rules are people who abide by what is expected them. They make those rules their own. But what we learn in Christ is that this wild God doesn't just expected us to abide, but he promises to abide in us. God will make us his own. God will be in us. The wild God of the cosmos will connect us to his mysterious, majestic eternity. "He abides with you," our Lord Jesus tells us.

God abides in Barbara Ehrenreich as well.  She is a part of our species and a part of God's creation. A child of God she seeks answers and will dig and dig and dig. She will never believe. That is a dirty word for her. But with courage, she will share her experiences and in the process help us gain a wider understanding of that Spirit of truth that is out there. To Barbara, that wild God is not a god of love, nor is God benevolent. She likes the way the science fiction author Philip K Dick described the mystical experiences that he, another atheist, had in his life... He said it was like being mugged. More like a hit-and-run accident than discovering the Buddha. That how it felt to Ehrenreich as well.

But that's not how everyone experiences the presence of the divine. What Christ opens us for us is the opportunity to dwell in the Spirit of truth. Called to abide in Christ, his yoke, his teachings, and his ways as disciples... we are open to the amazing wonders that comes from the God of Wonders. He is our wild God who abides in us so we can live as the people we truly have been created to be.

Yeah, for an atheist to experience this... Of course it feels like being mugged. It's a punch in the gut. It's an epiphany that the principles she has been living under are simply not the whole picture.

But for those believe... and abide in Jesus' love... in his commandments... in his way... the experience of the mystical and divine is true comfort and hope. St. Teresa of Avila, who experienced the mystical and is quoted by Ehrenreich, describes the experience of the Spirit of truth and the God who abides in us this way:

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and everyone of you.
-Teresa of Avila