Years ago I was confronted with three questions: “Who are you?”, “Where are you going?” and “How are you going to get there?” It took some real thought to formulate answers. Who am I? Well, I could repeat my name, complete with nicknames, titles and surnames; tell you what I did for a living; and that I like my red wine at room temperature and my white wine chilled. I had plans for the future…some of which have been fulfilled and some that sound pretty crazy to my current self. I was going to travel; open my own business or enjoy a successful career; write a book; and be part of a perfect family. I would never have to diet, exercise or worry about health. Nor would I worry about taxes, politics, sexual predators, or wrinkles. Life would happen the way it was supposed to because…well, because…because… The truth was, I didn’t know how I was going to get there, I only knew where I wanted to be.
Some days I find myself asking God similar questions, like “Who are you”? The second one is more difficult, “Where are you in my life?” I don’t always have answers for these complex questions, but I do know how one resolves them will determine how a person lives.
There are times when the notion of “God” seems odd. Oh, I know what Christian tradition has told me. And, I know that perceptions of who God is adjusts with the exploration of other traditions or as common beliefs meander through time. An understanding of God’s nature seems to change when confronted with other brands for the divine: Jehovah, Allah, Lord, Jesus and the list goes on. If one calls The Divine essence by a particular name, it seems to ascribe particular traits or understandings. Some define love, acceptance, mercy, and nurture. Others depict a perfect being which is obsessed with our ability to match that impeccability. Still others conjure up hate and the inability to accept anything that doesn’t match a sanctioned stereotype. We read in scripture that Jesus asked the disciples over and over, “Who do you say that I am?” It is interesting to juxtapose that thought with a question posed by Brian McLaren, a Protestant pastor and lecturer when he stated, “…What you focus on determines what you miss.” “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15 and Mark 8:29) Even the act of wrapping words around that statement means something will become hidden. Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.” Even that word carried human understanding and expectations. No wonder so many parables have to do with sight being given to the blind. What are we missing as we stumble through life? Who is God? Are we ‘made in the image’ of one who loves or one who hates? One who shows mercy and nurture or judges? Our perception of the divine is as important in our relationship with ourselves as in our interactions with others. Do I love and nurture myself? Or do I bully myself with taunts and jabs about decisions I have made or perceived personal failures?
Dovetailed into this cloudy definition is the concept of where the divine exists in our lives. Jesus responded to the Pharisees question regarding the coming of the kingdom of God by saying, ‘the kingdom of God is among (within – NIV) us’. (Luke 17:21) Like most of scripture, this is a pretty muddy statement. What does it mean that the kingdom is among us? Within us? Is this a reference to heaven? Or is it a broader statement about creation? Is God somewhere out there, beyond the clouds? I haven’t seen any angels, harps or pearly gates when flying above the clouds. Trust me, I have been known to be glued to the airplane window. Physics and aerodynamics explain how something weighing in somewhere around 800,000 pounds can defy gravity. I never studied either subject. I suppose if I had, I would understand that gravity is only part of the picture.
The thing is, when I am looking beyond my reality for God and this nebulous kingdom, I miss it. If I look around the plane, I might notice the flight attendant who helps an elderly woman to the restroom because her aging balance makes it difficult to navigate the aisle or the young man who jumps up to pull that overly heavy bag out of the overhead compartment for the young mother traveling with an infant. I might also miss the businessman who gives up his 1st class seat for the soldier who is traveling with orders that take her into unknown geographical, emotional and physical territory. It’s the recognition of people serving others simply because they can. This is God among us, within us, reaching out to love and nurture all that is around us.
A recent post said, “How you get there is where you’ll arrive”. Various sources attribute the quote to Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland. I couldn’t verify this. The point is, whoever it was completely tapped into our spiritual journey. How we do life – no matter who we think we are, where we think we are going or how we think we are going to get there – will depend on who we say that God is and where we see the divine in our lives. It isn’t simply noticing the good in the world, it’s recognizing that there is good in everything that God created and trusting that God is present always and everywhere – even in people we think are crazy, stupid, arrogant or just plain irritating. Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That statement can send a mathematician into apoplexy. Although, it’s magic to a behaviorist and theologian! It’s remembering that each one of us is a mixture of God’s goodness and human brokenness. It’s recognizing that our blindness will make us miss something that someone else might see. If we can put all of this together, we know that we are limited when we can only see our perspective. When we open ourselves to others and filter all that we come up against through the lens of our understanding of who God is and where we find God in our lives, we will become open to conversation and discernment regarding the opinions of others. It is then, and only then that we move forward together.
“How you get there is where you will arrive.” In the whole scheme of things, it seems that how one gets there is the important part. When it’s done with God at the center, it will lead to arriving exactly where we need to be.