Let's Talk about God
Let’s talk about God.
As soon as I say those words, I realize how impossible it is to try to capture God in words. How impossible it is to describe who God is and what God is like. An analogy: If you have ever tried to write a eulogy for someone, you realize the inadequacy of words to capture the essence of that person. If we humans cannot capture even another human being in words, how dare we think we can adequately describe God in words!
That being said, it is still helpful to try to say something meaningful about God. But first, we must acknowledge that our human language is limited, finite, and inadequate. Coupled with this fact is another fact: God is too much and too near. Lauren Winter, in her book Wearing God, says: “God’s utter difference from the world is too much to describe, and God’s nearest intimacy with the world is too near to name.” We can only gesture toward who God is and acknowledge that what we have said is inadequate.
God’s “too-much-ness” we experience every time we gaze at the stars at night, knowing our nearest star (excluding our sun) is almost 5 light years away. This means the light from that star–traveling 186,000 miles per second—takes almost five years to reach the earth! And the Hubble telescope has taken pictures of galaxies (such as the sombrero galaxy) which is 28 million light years away! Facts like these always make me utter to myself, “What must God be like?” I ask that same question when I study the inner
workings of a single cell, the community life of bees, or the intricacies of the human brain. God, indeed, is “too much.”
But God is also nearer than we can imagine. If we hold a picture an inch from our eyes, it becomes strange and unknowable not because it is too far away, but because it is too close. God is something like that—too near to us for us to grasp fully.
In her book, Winner talks about another favorite Biblical image of God: God as hider. In Isaiah 45 we read, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” Sometimes God hides. When we are tempted to say that God is absent, the truth is God may be hiding in that very person or situation we have declared bereft of God.
In one way we can even say God was hiding in the person of Jesus. Jesus was so unlike what people expected of the Messiah. He was so ordinary and so human. And his crucifixion—ironically—seemed devoid of any redeeming qualities. Yet this Jesus dared to call God “Abba.” He described God in lovely words we humans could appreciate: a good shepherd, a wise farmer, a dutiful housewife, a caring mother hen, a forgiving father.
Jesus also pointed out to us some of God’s favorite hiding places: God hides in bread and wine… in silence… in creation… in poverty… in hunger… in pain… in joy… in sickness… in loneliness… in children… in friendship… in music and song… and even at wedding receptions. The God who hides, is also the God who self-reveals. God is like a little child playing hide-and-seek who gives herself away by giggling. The theologian Belden Lane says, “Our job, as friends and disciples and reverencers and lovers of the Lord is to listen for God’s laughter.”
Sometimes we must put aside all our words about God and just sit in the presence of God. Or we can use our inadequate human words to commune with this Too-Much and Too-Near Beloved One:
Beloved God… You are too much and too near… What can I say about you?… My words fall short of anything I could express of your goodness… your beauty… your power… your creativity… your love. You are beyond the beyond… You are nearer than the near… You are hidden all around me and within me… Give me the eyes to see you especially in the suffering and the needy ones… in situations that seem hopeless… in circumstances that don’t make sense. I desire to find you… to know you.. to love you… to thank you… to be one with you. Please keep my yearning for you alive… my curiosity about you constantly stirring… and my love for you steady, strong, and filled with laughter and joy. Amen.
Is there anything in this reflection that stands out for you?
Have you ever experienced God as “too much and too near”?
Where is God “hiding” in your life right now?
Do you have any favorite images of God–even if they are inadequate?
Since we just celebrated Pentecost, I chose a hymn of praise today: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” written in 1867. The music is an old Welsh hymn. The words were written by Walter C. Smith.
Is there anything you’d like to say about this reflection… about God? I welcome your response below!
Good Morning Sr. Melannie!
For me God hides in the silence of my heart when I am resting after my yoga practice. Just being with God is when I can sometimes “hear” God’s laughter.
Thanks for a beautiful reflection.
Good Morning, Sr. Melannie!
You ask if anything stands out in this reflection, and I can only say this whole reflection — all of it — stands out! Wow!
I think of Moses not quite being able to see God, can sense God’s glory passing by, but can’t see God’s face. God is like someone you see up ahead who just turns a corner. You seek, you follow, but at best you might see a shoe or the hem of a coat.
I recently learned — perhaps from this blog! — that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on all the beaches of the world! The profundity of that calculation is staggering. We are dust and we stand in the sand; we are stardust and we gaze at the sky. We are worlds within worlds!
There really are no words.
John…..You are so correct. There really are no words. Thank you.
Good Morning Sister,
As I come from and presently have a large family, I find God hiding in plain sight. He stands before me in the recalcitrant child who is asking me to see things from a different point of view and to let go of my ego. He can be found in all the little busy day to day things and in every inconvenience, I just need to wake up and look for Him. Life is constant prayer and glorious praise if only we keep God first and foremost in our minds. Why He is so patient with me…. I cannot fathom.
Wow! So true, but I miss the realization in the moment. Your perspective is wonderful!
Such magnificent thoughts you have expressed, and captured the essence of something that I rarely ponder. As in this very moment, God is in the beautiful music of the birds saying their good mornings to humanity; and the squirrels chasing one another on the lawn, and in millions and millions of other ways. How can One Being hold little old me in the palm of His hand, and at the same time the entire universe!? I shall carry, and ponder, your thoughts and questions throughout the day, and into tomorrow…….Thank you, Sister. Peace and Blessings.
This is a topic that comes up frequently as a Spiritual Director. It indeed is difficult to imagine God being in the midst of all the stuff we call life….the good and bad, but that is what we are told. De Chardin believed that every single thing we can see or touch has a spark of the divine within, even manmade things because they were made by the hands of a human.
That image has helped me recognize God so much more easily……and value everything more dearly.
Some things have a diminished spark, it seems, but then I must ask myself, “is it my eyes/heart that is causing the diminishment?” God never loses the brilliance of that spark, so it must be me!
Thank you Sr. Melannie,
What a lovely reflection, Sr. Melanie. I see the nearness of God every time I look into the eyes of one of our dogs. I see him in the beauty and vastness of nature. Most of all I see both how near and how far away he is in sunrises and sunsets. When we are at the beach, I feel compelled to rise before sunrise and “wait for the Lord”. When the sun appears I feel like God is saying “Good Morning” and I stand in awe as the golden thread the sun emits stretches slowly across the water to the beach. I see his nearness in that golden thread. I see the opposite in the evening when the sun sets and he gently bids me goodnight and assures me by that same golden thread that “all is well”.
Good Monday Morning Sister Melannie,
Another hit out of the park!!
The line from Belden Lane really struck me, “Our job, as friends and disciples and reverencers and lovers of the Lord is to listen for God’s laughter.”
I was recently at an outdoor comedy venue and the laughter I heard from all was so heart-warming. Our daily concerns were gone for those two hours. God’s laughter and presence were everywhere.
I have a recording of my Dad’s story-telling and laughter! So close to my heart. I will listen again on Father’s Day.
My favorite Psalm is 139!!
Thank you again for the jump start to this week.
This week, my friend L has been a uniquely powerful vehicle (mediatrix?) of God’s grace for me. In a real sense, rescuing me from the consequences of an untutored anger and other wayward emotions. Simply by being there and listening, and sharing aspects of her own life and struggles.
Sometimes God is more noticeable in a particular place. I noticed God strongly in recent days at my North Cambridge parish, and in an interfaith “meditation chapel” on the grounds of a hospital.
Peace and light to all.
I am currently enjoying a wonderful vacation in Iceland with family. I think I have seen the most amazing sign of God’s presence when we come upon a new and glorious scene…glaciers, Geysirs, waterfalls and so much more. There really are no words to describe such great giftedness and creative love. God is so good!
I wish I knew how to find God hiding in this chronic illness that I deal with everyday that has robbed me of my life. God often seems absent, unreal, distant, uncaring, ect. I rely mostly on my intellectual knowledge and my Catholic/Christian education and understanding of God to get me through the hard times. My mind knows the right answers but my heart is not agreeing. I pray for healing, but none comes. How does one find God in sickness?
My heart goes out to you. It takes great faith in God to be suffering day after day and still trust God. Uniting with Jesus’s suffering on the cross can help, as you’ve no doubt done, but getting through those hard times is not easy. My prayers are with you.
Dear Stephen: How extremely difficult it is to lie in bed asking and seemingly not hearing back from the ONE we love. I have experience this and can only offer this: I asked HIM to get in bed with me, to comfort me, to help me make it through even an hour. I never “felt” HIM but “knew” HE was there suffering with me. There came a peace in the asking. You are a light to those who visit you. Use HIS light, the ONE WHO shines through you. The difficult day will diminish if you truly give is all to Him. My prayers are with you, Stephen.
Stephen….just as there are no words to adequately describe God, there are no words to adequately convey what it’s like to battle a debilitating disease as well as negative/doubtful thoughts that question whether God is listening. But He is near & abiding within you as evidenced in the efforts of your doctors, servants of healthcare and your friends, & family who all strive to lighten your physical, emotional, & spiritual load.
The closest first-hand experience I have to relate to your situation is when I was the caregiver of my sister, in my home, on a a daily basis who was battling a terminal disease. For both of us, patient & caregiver, it seemed a futile struggle to maintain hope. But, God did reveal Himself to us in ways only visible to each of us at myriad moments along this journey.
I struggled everyday as I witnessed my only sibling trying to hold on to faith in God’s promise. Personally, I was often angry & frustrated at the situation. But Stephen, hold fast in the face of your struggles. Know that God is near. So continue to talk, vent, or pray to our Father in Heaven. Be as open as you can in striving to notice or recognize God in action through those around you & within you. You are not alone. I will pray for & think of you often as you continue on your life’s journey.
Lots of thoughts to ponder…too near and too much.
I especially loved your prayer…spoken from the heart.
When reading your meditation I was reminded of the lyrics of a Matt Redman song “10 000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”:
” You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger;
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness, I will keep on singing;
10 000 reasons for my heart to find.”
It seems that the reasons to praise just keep on coming… Hallelujah!
When I’m really bummed, Our Lady gives me her Babe to hold. And my heart is eased. A special thanks to the Cruise Sisters of Notre Dame. My
shoulder replacement and recovery enjoyed your care and prayers! Another
song: Everybody Hurts by REM…sung by Father Ray Kelly!
God has been so good to me in so many ways. On the other side of the coin, my Dad died of Ataxia after 17 years of being an invalid. Now my 3 brothers are getting it. The thing that really hurts is, my Mother, at 98 is still alive to know this. I keep asking our Lord, WHY. Such a mystery.
Hi Sr. Melannie
I just read your reflection from this past Monday. There is so much depth in every sentence. I cannot even comment except: Be still and know that I am God. It was great seeing you today and apologize for not mentioning how much I enjoy your Monday reflections.