When God Grows

Children…always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon…  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. 


– Gilbert Keith G. K. Chesterton

 

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.

Psalm 147:4, NIV

 

As a seeker, and one who feels called to serve, I look forward to the moments when God gets bigger.  In my work as an Interfaith Minister, God expands most readily in my encounters with those who practice Faith Traditions that are different from my own.  A few weeks ago, I had the thrill of traveling, on an interfaith tour, to Turkey.  I must confess that in the 10 days we were there, my experience of God busted right outta da box.  Because there’s too much to tell, and no words for lots of it, here are four times when, for me, God grew.

 

Just before the trip, a friend of mine who is Sufi, explained to me that in Arabic, “Al” is affirmative, translating to mean, “yes,” and “Lah,” is negative, or “no.”  Al-lah.  Yes-No.  Allah.  Yesno.

 

Mevlana Rumi Mosque, where Rumi is buried

Mevlana Rumi Mosque, where Rumi is buried

Five times a day, the Muslim Call to Prayer resounds from the minarets and mosques across all of Turkey.  Whether the Call found me walking with others in the daylight, or waking me from sleep at 4am, I was eager to add my own prayers, to the millions of others, petitioning, thanking, praising God, the One who is Both, the One who is Neither, the One who holds the Inbetween.  Yes-No!  God-Dess!  Al-lah!

 

Even the smallest villages have gorgeous mosques with tall minarets!

Even the smallest villages have gorgeous mosques with tall minarets!

One hot, windy afternoon, out beyond the nearest village’s audible Call to Prayer, God grew again.  It was when we visited the site of Mother Mary’s home.  Driving up the mountain, high above Ephesus, I loved being pushed to imagine for the first time, what had happened to Mary after the Resurrection.  Where did this mother, this woman whom Catholic Christians and others revere and entrust with their prayers, where did she go?  It was then that our Tour Guide used a word I wasn’t expecting.  It was innocent, I’m sure, when he said, “superstitious.”  He said it in reference to the fountains of holy water and the wall of prayers created by those who have come to Mother Mary’s home.  How many times, I wondered, have I limited God’s bigness by labeling certain practices as….superstitious.  Without hesitation, I went directly to the fountains, dipping my hands in the holy water, touching my cheeks and throat with the cool wetness.  I thought of how many times Jesus, Mary, Mohammad, had been equally grateful for water’s refreshment.  Rummaging through my bag, I wrote my prayer on a piece of scrap paper and tied it faithfully to the wall of prayers.

 

The shrine where Mother Mary once lived

The shrine where Mother Mary once lived

 

The wall of prayers outside the shrine

The wall of prayers outside the shrine

How’s your Turkish?  Mine, like God, is growing….though not as rapidly as would’ve been useful during visits with our hosts.  Verbal language, be damned!  Connecting with these humans through facial expressions, charades of comic proportion, and – in extreme acts of desperation – bad drawings on found bits of napkin, we discovered genuine affection.  We unearthed the deep regard humans can feel for one another.  In each face, a spark of God.  Seven billion sparks of God and growing…

 

Dinner with Olive Farmers

Dinner with Olive Farmers

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Gifts and Playtime with the Next Generation!

 

 

Laurel and Tom

Laurel and Tom

 

And lastly?  I haven’t yet mentioned that I was on this trip with my Mom, and her husband, Tom.  Looking across ruins I had been asked, as a kid, to re-create in Sunday School using toothpicks and marshmallows; looking across ruins, whose architecture I studied and was made to memorize for The History of Theatre, as a college freshman; looking across ruins, my eyes picked out of the crowd, my Mother, the one who brought me here.

 

 

 

 

Mom, in awe...

Mom, in awe…

Ho hum, another angel-evoking creatiion

No wonder!!! (Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul)

 

God grows….

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Where, in your world, is God getting bigger?  And when God grows, what happens in you?   Please share with me….I like hearing from you.

 

[A version of this post also appears in Lumunos, where I have the thrill of “guest blogging” from time to time.  Visit them!]

 

8 thoughts on “When God Grows

  1. I so enjoyed reading this latest blog entry. It made me ponder how as a society, (and in many other societies too), we put so much stock in the word “God”. As an atheist, I often experience it like chewing on a delicious morsel of food that then gets stuck in my throat. By that I mean I could not agree more with what one is writing or saying about “God”, but then when the actual word is used, I find myself shaking my head – no, that is not what I meant after all.

    It gets to the question of whether our lives can be full of grace – one that spirals out beyond our individual selves to a place of connection, empathy, compassion with all beings in a very present way – that does not involve the word “God”. What precisely do people mean when they use that word? What happens if we build beautiful communities/societies without that word? Can we? Of course I would say “yes”.

    I believe we can have a strong ethical drive, a clear moral compass – doing right by each other and the planet – without the notion of a “God” to guide us.

    So Lauren, thank you for sharing with us stories of the holy places and acts you witnessed/participated in during your Turkey trip, and for slowing me down from my day-to-day busyness to ponder the word “God” in all of its many splendid and frustrating glories.

    • Deb, first of all….THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING!!!! Wow, it’s so nice to know that posts actually get read from time to time. One doesn’t always know….

      And Secondly, YES to EVERYTHING you’ve said. The word “God” is, of course, loaded with all sorts of meaning and roughly 7 billion definitions, one for each human (and then some). As a result, using the word at all is dicey at best and can make for a real clusterF in trying to have a productive, meaningful conversation. I often use different words for what I mean when I’m trying to convey the aspects of many of the concepts you’ve suggested that feel holy, sacred or life affirming: grace, connection, empathy, compassion. They all work.

      AND….in another light, I want very much for the experience of, “spiraling beyond our ourselves,” “knowing & appreciating our lives, filled with grace,” to create new definitions for a word that has been so usurped, so high-jacked, so misinterpreted, wounded and thrown under the bus. I guess that’s why from time to time, I say it. I say God.

      To your curiosity and to the time you’ve taken, I bow to you, Lauren

  2. I really appreciated. I had forgotten the “Yes-No” root of “Allah” and am glad to be reminded. And what a touching word about your Mother!

    I’ll reflect another time about the concept of God growing – very thought-provoking! For now, since we were at Ephesus at the same time, let me say that I had a very different experience of Mary’s House than you. Perhaps it was my cynicism holding sway, but I was surprised to see people kneeling in prayer in the house. It caught me off guard, though I should have expected it, and I found myself put off by the whole experience. I’m not sure now whether I disliked the fact of the devotion itself, or simply felt uncomfortable touring through a group at prayer. Either way, I recognize that I’m probably more of a secularist than is appropriate for a minister. I’m not what one of my professors years ago called a “functional atheist,” but I’m not fond of most customary expressions of piety and devotion. Maybe my tendency to dismiss such blinds me to others’ genuine spiritual journeys. It could be that it even gets in the way of my own closeness to the Holy One. Anyway, your reflection comes as a reminder not to judge to quickly. Thank you for that.

    • Thank you, so much, Steve, for reading….and thinking….and commenting! I can’t wait to talk with you about God GROWING. Let’s!!! In the meantime, I will offer that (in my not-so-humble, and sometimes rather confusing opinion), our world is greatly benefited by secularist ministers. Shouldn’t any of us consider and explore the forms of expression our beliefs inhabit most readily, be they acts of Thought, acts of Devotion, acts of well, ACTION. To become too comfortable in any one area just might limit our ability to grow and inhabit new territory. An adventure! Like traveling to Ephesus, but different! Thanks so much, Steve! Blessings to you…lvh

  3. OK, Lauren, here at last are a few thoughts about God growing. (I write mostly to salvage clarity from my own befuddlement.)

    I’ve been pondering and struggling with this idea. Although I have never accepted the notion of God as unchanging and unmoved, I’ll admit the idea of God “growing” is a bit startling, as if God were not yet complete or mature and had to “grow up.”

    I’m uncomfortable with that, and yet I’m convinced that we are created for love and companionship (or relationship, or community, if you will). This is what is meant by the teaching that we are created in “the image of God.” Love, Relationship and Companionship are at the very heart of the Divine nature, and God is perfectly able to love perfectly and completely and to be in perfect, constant community with all humanity and all creation. This perfection would seem to leave little room for growth. At the same time, relationship and love are dynamic experiences that involve interaction and change. So if it is love at all, Divine Love continually receives, embraces and includes all our experiences, all our choices, our loves, as well as our griefs, losses and failings. So the Perfect Love is always being enriched by all that happens. To use Leslie Weatherhead’s approach, God’s ultimate will remains constant, but God’s provisional (or immediate or contextual) will shifts in response to our changing circumstances in a kind of holy dance. So yes, maybe in this sense God grows. (Hmmm … note to self: explore how Gregory of Nyssa’s concept of the eternal progress of the soul might relate to this.)

    I’ve long been intrigued by an image that takes this in a bit different direction. St. Benedict experienced a mystical insight late in his life in which Divine Light entered him and enlarged his soul so that all creation appeared small and petty. It wasn’t that creation shrunk so he could perceive it, but his soul expanded to become capable of apprehending all creation. This ecstatic moment is portrayed in a joyful sculpture on the grounds of the St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska. Benedict is standing with his arms flung open wide, as if ready to receive all the universe and giving thanks for all. (http://stbenedictcenter.com/media/rokgallery/b/bfda5895-0588-4532-9632-454944773472/8a4f76be-1024-4500-a08f-1dac22d0ae49.jpg)

    Our capacity to experience God grows; this I know certainly!

    That’s enough for now. Your thoughts? Blessings, SG

    • Steve! Your comments are inspiring and sound and welcome! I love them! And, while the delay in my reply suggests I’ve forgotten and am ignoring what you’ve offered here, it’s quite the contrary. St Benedict’s vision is downright Shamanic. Thank you for sharing it. May we all, on our ever-spiraling, expanding relationship to and with the Divine, be so fortunate! Your comments suggest an important distinction in how I have titled this blog and explored the notion of God. I agree with you….OUR experience of God Grows. And, perhaps, since we are all God, God – like our ever-expanding Universe – is also Growing. Thanks, so much, for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Great phrase, “spiraling beyond ourselves”! Like an ecstatic dance powered by joyfulness and the awareness of all life as gift.

  5. Just back from Turkey myself…we were in many of the same places. Loved reading your thoughts. Mine have not really crystallized. I love Mother Mary’s House!! Thanks for sharing,
    Rebecca

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