Sunday, January 15, 2012

God is Here!
Gen. 1:1-5[1]
As most of you know, I have become a parent again—I'm helping raise my beautiful granddaughter Avery. Because she’s had some instability in her short life, we’ve done things like letting her keep her nighttime bottle longer than most pediatricians would recommend. It was difficult getting her off that at first, but she made the transition just fine. Now we’re helping her make the transition from having someone in the room when she goes to sleep at night to going to sleep on her own. Our motivations are mixed on this one—it’s important for her to learn to do that, but we also want her to be able to put herself back to sleep on her own when she wakes up in the middle of the night!
We got some professional advice on this, and you might find the method interesting. We go through her normal bedtime routine, and we sit in the chair by her bed like usual. Then we “remember” we have to go do something “right quick” and we’ll be “right back.” We stay gone for a short time at first—only 30 to 45 seconds. Then we come back and sit down again for a short time. And then we “remember” that we have to do something else, and we’ll be right back. And we stay gone a little bit longer each time, until we come back and find her asleep. She’s essentially learning that even when Grandpa isn't right there, physically present in the room, he's still there.
I think that’s a lesson most of us are still learning when it comes to God. Even when we don’t feel like God is anywhere near us, God is always as close to us as the air we are breathing.[2] Wherever we are, God is there, loving us, nurturing us, drawing us into the joy of God’s life and love.[3] Unfortunately, I doubt that there are many people in this world who really believe that. Even in church. Especially in church!
I think part of the problem is that traditional religion has tended to promote the idea that God is essentially estranged from us. God is “up there,” distant, remote, and unconcerned. We have to do something very, very special to get God’s attention, and even then, we may or may not succeed. That may work for some people. But I personally find that way of looking at God very unsatisfying. I don’t want a God who may come around for brief and fleeting encounters any more than I want a spouse who comes by for a visit once in a blue moon! I want a God who’s always there for me. I suspect that I may not be alone in that.
One of the reasons why I’m such a proponent of the Bible is that I firmly believe that’s the way it actually depicts God. I firmly believe that the witness of Scripture is that God is with us all continuously. In our lesson from Genesis for today, the Bible uses the language of the Spirit to express this conviction. It describes the Spirit of God as “hovering” or “resonating” over the world as it is being formed and ordered by God’s creative Word.[4] I believe that, from the very beginning, God has been fully present to everyone and everything in this world. And God is still with us because the Spirit of God still “hovers” and “resonates” over and around and in us all.[5]
The idea that God is constantly with us all through the Spirit’s presence is one that pervades human spiritual and religious experience. We have used many names for this “presence” throughout the centuries—the ancient Chinese called it “Chi.” Buddhists spoke of it as an emptiness that connects us all together![6] Whatever the word for it, religions of all kinds have by and large operated from the conviction that there is a powerful spiritual life force that pervades and upholds and fills everything.
One of the things I find interesting is how many of these religious and spiritual traditions use breathing as a means of quieting the distractions that compete for our attention and encountering the presence of something greater than ourselves. The reason I find it so interesting is that when the Hebrew Bible speaks of the Spirit of God hovering over all things at the beginning of creation, the word for “Spirit” is the same word as the “breath” that is later breathed into human beings to bring them to life! In a very real sense, the various spiritual traditions in our world echo the biblical conviction that the Spirit hovers over all creation, resonating with all living beings, giving them breath, and filling them with the life-giving presence of God. [7]
It’s amazing how quickly children pick up on things. The second night of the new bedtime routine, Avery was already anticipating our pretenses for slipping out of the room. But it’s also amazing how quickly children can learn. After only a few nights of the new bedtime routine, she’s already learning that I'm still there with her, even if I'm not right there in the room. That’s a lesson I think most of us are still learning when it comes to God. The biblical story of creation teaches us that from the very beginning, God has been right here. And God is still right here with us all. Even when we don’t feel like God is anywhere near us, God is never any farther away from us that the very breath we fill our lungs with. All we have to do to become aware that God is right here with us is to just breathe! Wherever we are, God is always here.

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 1/8/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann’s concept of God’s “interpenetration” of all creation; see Trinity and the Kingdom, 39, 104-5. See also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 9; Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 161. See further, Paul Tillich, “Spiritual Presence,” in The Eternal Now, 86-87.
[3] Moltmann, God in Creation, 9-17.
[4] There is great debate whether the reference in Gen. 1:2 is to a “great wind” that is part of the chaos God tames through the creative word, or whether it refers to the “Spirit of God” hovering over the primordial deep as an agent of creation. Cf. Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11, 106-8; cf. also Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 16-17.
[5] Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 9-10, 96, 98-103. Cf. Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian, 22- 23.
[6] Cf. Knitter, Without Buddha, 18-23, where he explores the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” in terms of Thich Nhat Hanh’s conception of it as “InterBeing,” or “the interconnected state of things constantly churning out new connections, new possibilities, new life” (ibid., p.12).
[7] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 34-35; Peter C. Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit, 277-79.

No comments: