Just under a year ago, we moved to a new home. There are only about eight miles between the former home and this one, but the process of moving was still daunting and exhausting — all the boxes, all the tape, all the cleaning and organizing, and purging. At the same time, it was exciting, and joyful and hope-filled. It was exciting to enter a new chapter in our lives. It was pure joy walking through our new, empty home and imagining where we would sit and cook and study and sleep and do laundry and watch tv and swim and garden and entertain. It filled us with hope imagining a better, more peaceful, more healthy, more spacious, more settled life. Relocating is all of these things – joy and pain, hope and mounds of boxes, drudgery and excitement! But once you’re in the new space and get everything set up (and set up again), and invite friends and family, and meet new neighbors, all of the memories of the pain and hard work fade, as the all of the imagined possibilities emerge into reality.
Today is the first day of Lent (and Valentine’s Day), and I started reading a book by Diana Butler Bass titled Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution. As the book opens, Bass is sitting in the center of a labyrinth at a monastery in Santa Barbara and explains that this monastery was once high upon a hill and isolated from everyday life until it was destroyed by fire. After which, the monks made the decision to relocate to town. I can imagine that decision requiring much prayer, contemplation, and conversation of the monks, as well as a deep digging into their theology and purpose. Their decision meant that while they walked their labyrinth at their new monastery, it would no longer be quiet. It meant that they would hear school children and traffic, rather than meditate high above in silence and with majestic views. While Bass stays at this monastery in the middle of town she experiences God’s presence realizing: “Any sense of monastic isolation has been overcome with a sense of intimate connection with all that is around, things seen and things less tangible. I, like the monks, am not above. Here, I am with the world. And I find that God is with me. Maybe coming off the mountain is not a bad thing after all.” (p. 3)
She then goes on to describe how God has also relocated. The once conventional “three-tiered universe” understanding of God/heavens above, humans/earth between, and hell/underworld below, no longer satisfies causing many people to conclude that God is dead. After all, if there were a God, there wouldn’t have been a holocaust, or 9/11, or Sandy Hook, or famine, or any number of heinous violence humans have had to endure. But Bass offers another option: God is not dead. God has simply relocated — no longer up above but here with us — even in the violence. Indeed, if evil has taken up residence next door, then God has moved in next door too. Bass offers evidence for this new understanding of God’s relocation in the questions people ask after tragedy and violence, and in the answer that is most often offered and accepted. She says that people used to ask their religious leaders questions like, Why did God let this happen? What is God trying to teach us? What does God want us to do in response? They didn’t ask Where is God? because they knew. God was in heaven. Today, however, the questions are more experiential and open-ended: Where is God? And, how shall we act upon that? And, further, these questions are not asked of religious leaders; they are asked of internet search engines, neighbors, co-workers, and sacred texts — texts that seekers have read on their own. Is she right? Has the God of Heaven above moved in next door? I sure hope so.
Certainly the notion that God is with us, is not new. Even John Wesley, on his deathbed twice repeated: “The best of all is God is with us. The best of all is God is with us.” But the notion that God has relocated brings all sorts of possibilities to mind. Bass says, “To relocate God is to reground our lives.” (p. 11) Indeed, this notion holds within it the possibility to change everything — including hope for better, more peaceful, more healthy, more spacious, more settled lives, along with the sincere hope that all of the imagined possibilities emerge into our reality. I want to live my life with God, here in the world. Today.