Who is the God We Need Now?


Cross in Sun

Photo courtesy of Freeimages.com

by Donna Sinclair

One of the great pleasures of retirement is having time to re-read authors who have been enriched your life over the years. After listening to the Trump inauguration speech, with its warlike image of a God who blesses America but not, apparently, Muslims, refugees, or the rest of the world, I felt an urgent need to rediscover the God I had learned about through books.

So I went looking for my beloved copy of James Hillman’s Inter Views. Hillman is a Jungian analyst with a long running conversation with Christianity, not all of it polite. The pages fell apart in my hands. I can’t understand this. The book was only published in 1983. I did manage to find the passage I thought I was looking for which described Hillman’s thesis that one God is not enough, and the “old gods” are returning to our consciousness.

It is worth exploring—the idea that our internal image of God might be starting to resemble that of the ancient Greeks. But the book is now crumbling and almost unsearchable. ( I kept wanting to somehow get a “find” function going, which tells you that computers have colonized my brain more than I wish.)

Hillman has a point though. I think we do believe in many Gods. I don’t think we put aside our old versions of God when our spiritual formation proceeds into maturity. I think we just layer them, and add to them, and that’s good, because we need all the aspects of God we can possibly imagine. And even then, we come nowhere near the complexity we need.

The first image of God I can remember was on a little glow-in-the-dark cross, superimposed on a picture of a very solemn and very Westernized Jesus. I was sometimes nervous about the dark, as a child, and this piece of cardboard with a bit of luminous paint on it, along with a Jesus who looked a lot like my dad with long hair, got me through the night. It was safely pinned on my bedroom wall, and I took comfort in it.

I had another image of God too, but I didn’t recognize it as divine. I was a slightly feral child in my early years, whose main companions (while my older brother was in school) were a small pack of hounds that I didn’t understand were meant for deer hunting, and some pine trees. In fact my Aunt Jean, visiting my parents on the island where we lived, said rather sharply to my mother that “you have to move to the mainland, Margaret. Did you know this child is talking to the trees?”

I was indeed. I have faint memories of a deep sense of oneness with the land, and the lake and the dogs and the rocks. A profound feeling of safety and peace, especially when we were on the water in our small boat, my father in the stern and me in the bow with my hands trailing through the silky water. This was the God of the Celtic mystics, and — although I forgot that God for awhile — that God has in my later years returned to me, and brings me great joy. That God  illuminates the soul of Creation, found in my garden and on the hiking trail, the beach and the forest and on long walks in the snow.

In fact the Celtic God permeates the universe, populating Creation with angels who surround and engage humans wherever they are. That God is illuminated in my copy of Esther de Waal’s book, Every Earthly Blessing, which is still is in one piece. I guess that’s because it is the 1999 edition.  My favourite invocation begins with the mundane — making the bed in the morning — and moves from conception to birth to baptism to the glorious: all the angels in Heaven.

There were Gods to whom I said no. I was so alarmed by the male, triumphant God of the evangelical church that I encountered later in life — invoked by prayers to an extremely personal Jesus I didn’t recognize, and a great many biblical references — that for many years I could hardly say the name Jesus and didn’t mention the Bible at all.

But the Bible drew me back in. The stories are so rich and compelling, and the Jesus who is found there is so interesting. I couldn’t resist. And those stories helped interpret the God who spoke through my dreams at night, so I welcomed that God back, and Jesus too, even though Hillman wonders — a little crankily — how Christians could have a “God-image …whose Father did not sleep with his Mother.”

And besides, by that time I had Dorothee Soelle, whose book The Strength of the Weak appeared in 1984. The pages in my copy are in pretty good shape. Soelle offered a God who got me happily through the inclusive language wars in the church, and who supports me even now as I contemplate the God Mr. Trump is counting on to Put America First. Soelle’s vision of God is actually a lot like the one I knew as a child, the one I encounter when our church choir sings the words of the British mystic Julian of Norwich. In the great spiritual upheavals of 14th century Germany, Soelle tells us, when women formed monasteries and heard voices and saw visions, God was revealed as light or wind or air. Not as a King or majesty or even as a mighty fortress. Soelle finds this liberating; this is a not a God who demands power or (in the new American president’s words) the blood of patriots.

I could go on about the wisdom of Brian Swimme, who shows us the God of the cosmos. Or of Thomas King, whose cooperative God made the world with the aid of otters and ducks and a turtle and a woman who fell from the sky. But I’ll end with the God I find in my congregation: in our beloved minister’s sermons and in the voices of the choir. I find this God in meetings, in the church parlour, of the little group trying to stop the Energy East Pipeline — because to me, protecting God’s elegant Creation is an infinitely holy task. I find this beautiful God in the work of those who literally and lovingly feed the people, after church and for a gathering and at a funeral. This is the God of Christmas pageants and drumming groups, One who tells us that all water is sacred, and we must thank it and protect it.

This is the God who will not allow us to substitute an image of nationalism, greed, and domination for the God who sees us as channels of divine peace.

In the end of course, God is a vast mystery and will not be contained in my dusty, crumbling books. But in my small human way, sometimes I imagine God to be a friend, one who is delighted by our efforts to touch God’s face with a poem or a painting or a chanted protest. A friend who is always, always with the weak and fleeing, trapped in camps and airports and separated from all they know. That’s the same God friend I knew as a child, whose picture was thumbtacked to my bedroom wall, shining mildly out of the darkness, so I knew that I was never alone.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Long View, The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is Tommy’s Angel (2013).

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Categories: Christian Life, Donna Sinclair, Ethics, Featured, Peace, Justice, and Equality, Religion, World

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at woodlakebooks.com

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