Lent can be a time to hone our awareness of God
The Rev. Barbara Vincent, Dioc. Of Christchurch NZ
At the beginning of this third millenium we have an enormous amount of knowledge about this incredible world we live in, and we take as a matter of course things that once-upon-a-not-so long ago would have been regarded as miraculous – like travelling from one side of the world to the other in person in 24 hours, like sitting at home watching a rugby game or a riot as it happens thousands of miles away … We could go on and on with incredible, miraculous things but rarely, if ever, would the word ‘God’ have been part of the verbal scene.
It’s possible to start kindergarten at two and continue at an educational institution until gaining a PhD at twenty six , without once hearing the word God mentioned in one’s studies. And so it’s not surprising that God can appear to be completely irrelevant to ordinary everyday life. Even if someone comes to church, it can appear that the God we worship can be talked about only by using stories and images from our biblical past or from our Christian history
For example, we talk of stars along with angels and shepherds in a 2000 year old Christmas story ; but not that we are intimately related to those very stars, with the actual material of our minds and bodies being made in them.
We can give the impression that our God is to be found only in what we identify as spiritual, though we’re not sure anymore where that is exactly because God isn’t anymore thought to be part of the physical world we see around us. This hasn’t always been so by a long shot . About 400 years ago an Elizabethan preacher taught his congregation that :
"… it is not to be thought that God hath created all this whole universal world as it is; and thus once made, hath given it up to be ruled and used after our own wits and device … He still preserveth it by his goodness, he still stayeth it in his creation … lest they should fall without him to their nothing again, whereof they were made. … [God] is therefore invisible everywhere, and in every creature, and fulfilleth both Heaven and Earth with his presence. In the fire, to give heat; in the water to give moisture; in the earth to give fruit; in the heart to give strength" … and so on. God was really part of everyday reality for people of that time But since then a change has come, bit by bit. Part of this change flows from the Reformation, with Protestant theological thought emphasising the utter otherness of God and the sinfulness of humanity so that sharp boundaries came to be drawn between God and humanity, heaven and earth, time and eternity, the centrality of Jesus Christ but the hiddenness of God.
Inevitably this led to a downgrading then ignoring of the earlier traditions where nature had been seen as God’s domain. This coincided with the explosion in scientific thought, and resulted in God progressively being thrown out of nature as more was understood. The more that was known about the processes, the less room there seemed to be for God.
But God is the ground of the universe and essential for its continued existence where we can’t describe things as ‘supernatural’ because all is natural .i.e. all is part of nature. This world is an interconnected web of processes whose creativity is inbuilt God doesn’t act in the world as an outsider but the universe’s natural processes are modes of God’s activity. If God is all the time creating in and through the processes of the world so that they are, in themselves, part of God’s action, then God’s presence is all around us, as Psalm139 expresses so movingly. Or as Paul told the people of Athens, God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being.
Not symbolically, but quite literally.