I tried. I tried to figure God out. Yes, laughable, maybe. For a time, I thought if I had knowledge about God, I would know God. For a time, I thought if I stayed in the correct lanes, I would win Jesus over. For a time, I believed if I had the correct doctrine, then my belief would be correct and I would have the corner on (capital-T) Truth. For a time, retributive justice (an eye for an eye) seemed greater than restorative justice (How many times shall I forgive? Seventy times seven [Mt 18:20-22]). For a time, I sat in the camp with those Christians who believe the Christian way is the “right” way and others must follow our way to be “in”. For a time, church was where God was; maybe, even, church was God. For a time, God was only in Christian songs with Christian people at Christian events.
When my striving to figure God out was in full swing, discrepancies kept appearing. I’d think, “If Jesus eats with sinners, why am I trying to avoid those people I see as ‘bad and different’?” I considered, “Jesus is not a white, Christian, American male, so why is my learning about Him mostly coming from white, Christian, American men?” I wondered, “Why do some forms of Christianity profess God knew us in our womb and loved us, but then declare we are only accepted by Christ if we, ourselves, reach out to Him? Doesn’t Scripture say ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’ (Romans 8:35-39)?’” I wrestled, “Why is Abraham accepted in our lineage, but not Jewish people?” When an understanding of a Hebrew word was unlocked and laid forth an expansive meaning, I pondered “How much do English translation [of Bibles] miss in the nuances of the original Hebrew text and what does this mean for my own (mis)understanding?”. Furthermore, two related questions kept nagging me, “If I truly believe God is love and His love dwells in my being, then, how does God’s love weave into differing aspects of my life, not a once-a-week stop at my local place of worship? How can I receive and put God’s love in action with my family, friends, or the waitress at the local restaurant?”
In the midst of my seemingly endless inquiries, the Spirit blew me back to my roots. To the gifts I missed along the way. To the way I was made and the past given to me as gift, all gift. A root of solitude in my childhood bedroom, a haven to explore my inner stirrings through art and writing, was revealed. A root of long forgotten names of monks and mystics reemerged. A root of the beauty of stained glass windows of the Catholic church. A root of friendship with a family who lived Christ’s love. A root found in the reverence of kneeling. A root smelling of incense. A root in taking the Eucharist and gently placing it on my tongue, melting as I sauntered back to the pew. All these roots shimmered reminding me of God’s presence in a myriad of ways throughout my life. In ways that intertwined my understanding of God’s grace with who I am and the pilgrimage I’ve been on all along.
Since that awakening, engaging in safe spaces where individuals let my questions be voiced without condemnation or a rote Scriptural answer has allowed healing and understanding. An introduction to imaginative, experiential worship with a community of gracious people have enlivened my faith. This kinesthetic faith includes the touch of holy water, a reintroduction to silence (which I missed, but never knew I missed), markers and paint. This faith notices details, dances, delights in food, enjoys wine & laughter with friends and views God’s divine spark in every. single. person. This creative faith reminds me of who I’ve always been and what I’ve always known. God is good. God is love. God’s justice brings restorative healing. Jesus’ truth challenges my own life in far deeper ways than I can speculate for others’ lives. I’ve fallen away from needing specific answers to the questions forming within realizing it’s the questions themselves engaging me with God, transforming my view.
I was recently asked to consider how imagination and theology mix. I loved this question because too often, it seems these two are on opposite ends of the spectrum, enemies of the other. On one end is a serious, academic theologian filled with doctrinal answers and all the correct places to look. On the other end is the whimsy of imagination, playfully skipping along hand-in-hand with God. But, clearly, it is not in one or the other, but, an intermingling of both/and where we have a deep, beautiful encounter with God. When theology befriends imagination, minds and hearts are ignited through the richness of hearty storytelling, engaging visuals, sensuous touch, long-ago scents, and taste buds awoken. When imagination befriends theology, ideas centered around God take on vibrant life; the living Word is fleshed out.
A recent introduction to the Jewish tradition of Midrash, helps me to recognize that questioning, doubt and imagination is crucial to our encounter with God. In Jan Richardson’s book, ‘In the Sanctuary of Women’ (p. 41), she writes, “Midrashim are stories that first emerged orally, long centuries ago, as the rabbis pondered the Hebrew Bible. Where gaps, curiosities and seeming contradictions existed in the text, the rabbis brought the gift of their imaginations. Spinning stories out of the spaces between the lines and reconciling the points of tension, they created tales of wisdom and wonder that were passed down from generation to generation, eventually taking written form. The practice of Midrash was born of the recognition that although the form of the scriptures remains essentially the same, the Bible is a living book that continues to ask us to engage it anew.”
These lines inspire me to return to the living book to encounter God anew. I find an invitation in Midrash for imagination and theology to mingle, discuss and play with the other. Instead of scanning the Bible to read all, know all; can we linger with a word, or a line and let it form us from the inside out? Can we give ourselves permission to encounter God with imagination, reading between the lines? Can we be curious about who God is and what God is up to and leave it at that?
The Season of Lent begins on Wednesday this week. This is a rich time to explore Christ’s wilderness experience and the week leading up to his crucifixion. As a way to engage theology and imagination, each week, my offering for will be a creative writing of an inner voice of an individual from Scripture and their encounter with Christ. This Wednesday, I will begin with my own inner voice regarding Ash Wednesday. I hope you will join me on this Lenten journey and that it may spur how theology and imagination can be stirred together in your own life.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Authors of Letters to a Young Poet
Consider what “live the questions now” may mean for your own life.
What types of games do you think Jesus liked to play when He was a child? If Jesus was a child in 2016, what types of games might He play?