On Saturday I had one task to complete: to hang eight multi-cultural images of Jesus on the rear wall of the sanctuary with Quake Hold Putty. I have preached on live television and led worship with the Archbishop of Los Angeles just fine, but hanging art in a public space intimidated me. Some of these prints were vertical, others horizontal. Some were dark in tone, others bright. Which ones should go beside which? How high? How far apart? This project had a lot of me in it and I didn’t want the clutter of any mistakes to cloud viewers’ experience of its power and beauty. The project was so important to me that I pushed through a morning of illness to get the artwork up before the congregation arrived on Sunday morning.
I arranged the prints on the floor, swapping them out until the balance of colors and brightness seemed right. I took off my shoes, climbed on a chair, and with a deep breath, stuck the first print to the wall. Since the church’s roof didn’t crack afterward, I decided I was on the right tack and kept going.
Afterward, I walked to the front of the sanctuary to see how the project looked from a distance. Turning around, I pumped the air with my fists, shouting, “Woo! Woo! Woo!” The rich colors on the wall brought the fullness of Jesus into this sacred space. My arms fell to my side in holy silence. I felt close to God, and grateful.
Overnight Jesus came unglued. To be more accurate, the Quake Hold Putty gave way and by Sunday morning Jesus lay face down on the floor in the rear of the sanctuary. As hard as I had worked to keep Jesus in place, he hadn’t stayed put.
I had to pick him up off the floor, climb barefooted on the chair, use my level and ruler again, add more putty and masking tape, then leverage my strength against the wall to try to adhere the prints more strongly than before. I tried not to linger on the thought that all my work had been in vain. After all, it hadn’t been completely: now I knew the correct order, spacing, and height for the prints. I finished in less time than the day before. I sighed as I realized that, like dishes that accumulate after each meal, the prints would probably fall again and need to be re-hung. When we found a more long-lasting solution, they would have to be hung yet again.
A few days later, someone asked me in a different setting how I find the strength to pick myself up and go forward when my health sets me back repeatedly. I thought about my sense of resignation when I had seen Jesus on the floor after all my hard work. I thought about how I decided that giving up on him was not an option, and that bringing these varied, colorful images of Jesus into people’s lives was holy work in which God’s own self was active. God and I were doing this project together. God was in the action of creating, hanging, and viewing the display. God had been with me in the action of picking Jesus up and bringing him to life again. God is in the changes that are occurring in people’s faith as they experience these images of Jesus.
That is the best summary I can come up with of how I keep getting up and going forward when knocked down by circumstances: God is in the action of my choosing not to give in and in the actions of getting up and moving forward. God is not a distant being, but rather present in my life affirming actions.
God who is the Ground of Being*, beyond the limits of language, symbol and metaphor, is best known in actions and process. As Carter Heyward writes, “God is a verb,” an active tense verb, not an immutable, static noun.**
God is active, moving, and creating, bringing forth possibilities for growth, love, justice, and life. God is not a being who tells me from afar to get up, to be hopeful and courageous, to adapt, to embrace life for myself and bring it to others. I don’t respond well to people who tell me what to do, nor would I respond well to that kind of god.
God in whom I live and move and have my being is in the doing, the living, the creating. God’s relationship with us is mutual: God affects us and we affect God. God affects the world and is affected by it. When we grieve, our pain affects God. When we struggle, God is joined with us and affected by our struggle. When I fall and don’t know if I can get back up, God isn’t far away telling me to get up. God is present in my choosing the decision that enhances life; God is present in the action of my garnering the breath, muscle, persistence and courage to get up.***
We might say that God is not the wind–God is in the wind’s blowing as it pushes leaves from trees and in the dancing as they swirl to the ground. God is not the comfort given to one who is grieving–God is in the acts of listening and sharing, in crying and smiling, in bringing longing and gratitude to the surface and releasing them into world. God has been in the process of creating since the beginning of time and is creating still. God’s loving actively holds us and moves us forward.
God is present in the act of forgiving.
God is present in the act of challenging.
God is present in the act of mending.
God is present in the act of growing.
God is present in the act of writing.
God is present in the act of choosing.
God is present in the act of believing
God is present in the act of freeing.
God is present in the act of getting up when we are knocked down.
God is present in the act opening of our hand to others.
God is present in the act of working for justice.
When we act in life affirming and justice-making ways, we partner with God and swim in the moving current that is God’s action in the world. When we die–with little d’s during life or the big D of our final breath–we participate in God. When we experience resurrection–lower case or upper–we participate in God. When we love, we join in God’s own loving.
Knowing that God and I are together getting up and continuing on, loving and changing with life, always remaining good at our core: this is how keep going. This is the God in whom I live and move and have my being–the God I know in Jesus Christ.
* Paul Tillich, especially The Courage to Be.
**Carter Heyward, especially The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relating. Heyward was is one of the Philadelphia Eleven, eleven women whose ordination in 1974 opened the door for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church of America.
***John C. Cobb and Alfred North Whitehead. An on-line article by John C. Cobb, Process Theology, is an excellent summary of Christian Process Theology.