Saturday, 24 December 2011

Divine order - nature, religion and the being of God. She is puzzled.

What is God like?

Bewilderment often impels me to ask this.

I listen to the teaching and preaching of the church, and noting (amid its well-meaning and good-hearted reverence) the signs of superstition and narrow muddled thinking, inconsistency and vested interested, I turn aside discontented from its packaged doctrines and odd specific implementations of general morality.

I believe God created everything that is, that the one-song (uni-verse) poured forth from the Spirit’s life urge in a tumbling cornucopia of myriad self-expression.  I believe tsunamis and ticks, sunsets and scabs, Pacific waves and putrid waste all tell me something about the divine economy and what one might call the 360o point of view of the Living God.  But every now and then something makes me stop and think, “Yikes!  God!  What are you like?” 

This happened yesterday morning when we were discussing over breakfast the necessity of implementing the cats’ next flea treatment.  Casually observing to my beloved spouse the connection between fleas and tapeworm – that fleas carry tapeworm eggs and, being small and streamlined, can crawl freely in and out of an animal’s anus and deliver tapeworm to its gut by depositing the eggs in its rectum – once more I found myself lost in the old question, contemplating the ways of mty Creator, asking “God . . . what are You like?”

The church is quick to offer me answers, but I find most of them are like carrying water in a paper bag – they don’t take you very far. 

Over the last several weeks I have followed on television a series about British teenagers having a taster of Amish life.  At the same time I have been reading Joe Mackall’s Plain Secrets.  Both the TV series and the book puzzled me deeply.  I think of a community prepared to take a human being brought up separate from ‘the world’, having no ID papers allowing him to make his way alone, lacking the social skills to swim easily in the mainstream, not even a social security number or a home, and condemn him to excommunication and shunning, forbid his family to speak to him, insist not only he but also his parents will surely be damned by God to hell – because he prefers to drive a tractor . . . because he prefers the common-sense option of a car on the freeway rather than the impossibly vulnerable buggy to transport his children . . . because he wants to use a cell-phone . . .

I read of the Swartzentruber Amishman taking his injured child streaming with blood from English house to English house for someone who could give them a lift to the hospital and, finding no-one home, resorting to taking her to the vet to be stitched up (the vet did a good job).  Very resourceful under the circumstances, and no doubt the Amish are steadfast, admirable, faithful and courageous, with much to teach us who have been trapped and infected by the Mammon-tangle – but to say the Ordnung originates with God?  Can I believe that?  I don’t think I can.

In the case of a number of other lifestyle issues, I watch with bemusement the stockpiling of proof texts and tortuous application of biblical literalism necessary to arrive at predetermined evangelical points of view, and I ask myself - can I believe that?  More to the point, does it take me any closer to the God who created fleas creeping in and out of anuses and hermaphrodite snails and volcanoes that will freeze a living city in death in the blink of an eye?  Does the God who made the shark who stripped the flesh from the terrified swimmer care how he wore his braces or how short she cut her hair?

There are people who will, with kindness, courtesy and restraint, explain to me exactly why it matters that a menstruating women must not be allowed past the man-made rail that separates this patch of ground from that patch of ground lest she contaminate by her approach this wood/stone/concrete man-made table where the consecration takes place of the wafers they call ‘bread’ that were made far away in a press by other menstruating women set aside from the world in enclosed convents . . . 

I listened as the Amish-woman on the TV said that it freaked out her children to see her British visitors hug each other goodnight (because that included hugging people of the opposite gender).  She cautioned the girls over how they should bend down when they were picking tomatoes in the field, lest inadvertently, despite the modest dress they had been given to wear, men might see their breasts or legs or whatever it was that she was bothered about men possibly seeing.

The Bible says that God looked at everything that He had made, and pronounced it good.  Everything.  Breasts and legs, hermaphrodites and homosexuals and heterosexuals, volcanoes and quicksands and tsunamis, carbuncles and the ebola virus, grief and death and sorrow, fear and pain: God made everything, and said that it is good.  Laughter and singing, the smell of rain on summer dust, the terror and splendour of sheet lightning, those seriously weird fish that live right down at the bottom of the sea. Hydrothermal vents and giant tube worms.

God pronounced good the octopus that found the crevice in the corner of the tank in the sea-life centre through which it escaped by night into the neighbouring tank to eat the fish that God had also made before creeping back into its own tank again before morning.

What are You like?  God, what are You like?  You are like something that is not adequately addressed by kapps and aprons, by monastic Rules, by the Athanasian creed or the Ordnung.

And human beings, in enshrining the holy, comprehensively get in the way.

I almost (this is a long story) ended up co-ordinating the flower rota at church.  God, seeing this, acted swiftly and mercifully to prevent its occurrence because, you see, God knows me.  But when I thought I was going to be the flower lady, I bought a book about arranging church flowers; and there, near the front, was a paragraph explaining to all would-be flower arrangers that they must charge the congregation all that they could for their expenses – car parking fees, petrol, foam block – anything and everything, because (this made me blink and read it again to check I’d got it right) the more they charged the church the more the church would benefit.   Only a natural theologian could come up with so perfectly opaque a piece of reasoning.   At first I put the book on a high shelf where I could hardly see it.  But it still made me feel physically ill to know it was there, so I took it to the charity shop.

But puzzling about what God is like, bewildered by the perceptions and assertions of religious people, I glanced out at the woodpile, built against the garden wall.  The seasoned logs, provident and neatly stacked, representative of forward thinking and orderly life, and the wall beautifully re-pointed by Joe and Kevin to last another hundred years, spoke to me of shelter and peace.  And here I see the meeting point of the Amish Ordnung and the monastic tradition, mother Church and her dogma, holy ecology and the Divine mind.   The ways of Mammon are essentially chaotic – even where they are systematic they tend towards chaos.  The ways of God exhibit divine order – the bee lives for the flower as the flower lives for the bee, and each unfolds the inherent nature of what it was called to be.  Order and peace are interconnected – mutually proceeding from each other.

And I know from personal experience, by the touch of His Spirit upon my life, that the presence of God is peace.

Therefore I have discovered at least this: that inasmuch as it strive towards order, religion with all its blindness and cruelty shows truly a yearning and twisting of the soul growing up toward the light. 

If I work to put (and hold) in place order and peace in my life, then there will be some small thing thing in resonance with the one-song, the still small voice, the eternal Word.  I think.  I hope.


trump said...

Thought id say hello and to wish you and your family a merry Christmas. Richard from the Amish Commnunity of Lebanon,Pa

Pen Wilcock said...

:0D Hello Richard! Good to meet you. May God bless your home and family with peace this Christmastide.

Gerry Snape said...

I get more that a word?...yes it's my word!...the older I get. I thought that as I increased in age, I would increase in Wisdom...that's what I thought in my 20s and 30s...oh dear how wrong I was. Yet in all of my questioning and holy doubting....I cling to his hand and can only say...o.k. lead on MacDuff...that's not God's name by the way...but I don't think that God will mind!!!
Many hugs for the weekend!

Ganeida said...

The Eternal Question. All I know is that what He says about Himself is true: God is love. The ways in which that manifests confuse me often but the touch of Christ is love. Peace & order follow in its wake.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Gerry - yes, me too!

Ganeida - yes indeed. In asking what is God like, having accepted the teaching/belief that God is love, part of what I am asking is 'what is love like?' in a universe where being created and sustained by love does not preclude massive calamities and slow death from hideous diseases.
Knowing that peace and order follow in the wake of what love/Christ/God is, will help to track what love/Christ/God is like - which is what I am asking, having found the teaching of the church not always reliable on that subject. x

Ganeida said...

Ember: This post has sort of been niggling at me. I caught half of a quote somewhere [would really like to read the whole thing if it ever shows up again] about imperfect marriages & how God uses them to draw us to himself & perhaps that is the purpose of disasters & other horrible things ~ they leave us nowhere to turn but to God. [Do you remember that wonderful Rumor Godden quote in her autobiography? Captain: There is nothing left but to pray. Passenger:Oh no, is it as bad as that!]

I just marvel at all the weirdness in nature. And I saw a program on human reproduction ~ internal camera ~& the whole thing looks like this most amazing garden with strange & exotic flowering plants. The smaller something was the more delicate & intricate it was. How could you believe something like that was an *accident of the universe*?

There are two bible quote relating to this I really like. The first is, I think, Exodus 29:29 The secret things belong to God alone. The other is from Job: Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him I mostly don't understand much at all but I figure I can trust the one who made so many amazing wonder ~ & enough of mystery to keep our minds occupied for all of life!

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, friend - good thoughts. Perhaps I must reassure thee, it is not at all that I do not trust God, or that I mistake the wonders of creation for an accident of the universe. Nor do I forget (see thy earlier comment)that God's nature is love.
It is that the ways of God are so tantalisingly mysterious to me, and my observations of God's hand revealed in nature leads me to suppose that His ways are far removed from the conventions I see and hear expounded in the church. Wilder, perhaps.

DaisyAnon said...

Wonderful post Ember, I have thought similar thoughts for a long time, but do not have your gift of expression.

Many thanks.

Ganeida said...

Oh Ember, I did not think you were assailed by doubts or misgivings or a lack of trust. More like being given a juicy bone to gnaw on. And what C.S.Lewis said: He's not a *tame* lion you know

These are the sort of meditations that can very sucessfully divert me from attending to the mundane things that are my duties in life. *sigh* I had better go & attend to the more imperative of these before they wake the rest of the house.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Daisyanon - hope you had a good Christmas!

Waving, Ganeida!