Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God is not distant


And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
[Luke 1:46-49, ESV]


Rev. Ben Dueholm last Sunday:
.... Reflecting on the approach of death, and the question of God, [Roger] Ebert writes:

"I was asked at lunch today who or what I worshipped. The question was asked sincerely, and in the same spirit I responded that I worshipped whatever there might be outside knowledge. I worship the void. The mystery. And the ability of our human minds to perceive an unanswerable mystery. To reduce such a thing to simplistic names"—I imagine here he has in mind God, YHWH, Allah, Christ, and the rest—"is an insult to it, and to our intelligence."

I should say before I go on that I love Roger Ebert and don’t mean to bag on him. .... His words are eloquent and the sentiment is common. It is even, in a way, noble. Lots and lots of people look for God—forgive my use of a simplistic name—at the edge of life. We look for God at the edge of consciousness, at the edge of scientific knowledge, at the moment of death. ....

This is a very different claim about God than we hear in the famous song of the Blessed Virgin Mary in today’s Gospel. Mary’s God is at the center of life, not at the edge of it. Mary’s God is magnified by her very soul, by her mind. She does not place God in a void at the outer limits of her mind’s journey. She unabashedly accepts that God has done great things, not just in general but for her. Her God is not an unanswerable mystery, but a God who inspires fear and grants mercy. God sets the proud wandering the their own futile thoughts; breaks the thrones of the mighty, feeds the hungry, spurns the rich, and makes and remembers promises to the people of Israel.

This God is known by many names, perhaps all of them simplistic, but Mary blesses God’s proper Name as holy. There is nothing in Mary’s witness of faith that reduces the mystery of God. Rather she celebrates it, magnifies it, worships it.

...Mary’s God is not at the margin, watching and waiting for our awe, intervening now and then. Her God is at the center of life, and at this moment the center of life is her. Jesus is growing in her womb, conceived in mystery. She has heard the awful charge from the angel to bear this wondrous child despite her own fears and her own frailty—she was just a girl and the pregnancy was potentially scandalous, after all. The mystery was not out there past the limit of her knowledge; it was what she knew, what she felt every day as it quickened and took flesh within her. And in doing that, God truly is thwarting the mighty and lifting up the lowly. God indeed is scattering the thoughts of those too proud to find God in such a humble place, who take God’s silence for God’s absence, who make God in their own majestic, glorious, noble image.

This is the God not of the void or of the beyond, but the God of the center, the God of Jesus Christ. God is not distant but near. God is not where we give up. God is where we start—in our homes, our work, our knowledge, here in our gifts of bread and wine. God is also where we end—in wonder, in fear, in the void, at the hour of our death. And God is present in between, as we are born, as we struggle, as we serve, and as we learn and change. .... [more]
The Private Intellectual: The God of the Center