Spiritual Growth...

“We are a welcoming, spiritual community, anchored in love and growing in faith.”

Our church is part of the United Church of Christ, which produces a Daily Devotional Blog. It’s quite good, and almost always interesting, a great resource for growing in your spiritual journey. The one from this morning I found particularly engaging…particularly because it highlighted the importance of the work we are doing here in our church.

The author of today’s devotional raised the important question of God’s power and goodness in the face of a wicked world. It’s a theological conundrum known as “theodicy.” If there’s evil in the world, can we truly say that God is both “all powerful” and “eternally good?” It’s an important question, not to be tackled or dismissed lightly. What caught my eye, however, was a common thread through all the examples she gave of injustices that might cause us to doubt God’s goodness: mass shootings, inhumane treatment of refugees and immigrants, war criminals and corrupt politicians. It is essential to our faith to be able to ask, “How could God allow such evil to exist?” It is also essential to our faith that we recognize our Covenant with God. God has created humans in God’s image, God has called humans to be co-creators of a more loving and just world (Jewish communities refer to this as “tikkun olam” or “world repair”), and our own Biblical teachings offer stories from many times in human history when God has turned a blind eye to human-caused injustices because God’s people have broken God’s Covenant. Our tradition teaches that “God is good all the time,” and our tradition also teaches that there is such a thing as human sin. These two aspects of life on Earth do not contradict each other…they create the paradox in which people of faith manage their lives.

In my estimation, if we are going to doubt God’s goodness based on the moral failings of human beings…then we have perhaps stopped connecting with the God of Creation, who is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, God who is not under our control and God who refuses to control others. God who created the food chain and microorganisms that act as parasites and a universe filled with asteroids that go rogue and crash into planets. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has described the Divine as our “Unsettling God.” It’s one thing to doubt God’s goodness…it’s another thing to look at the ways in which humankind gives into our most base desires and compulsive reactions, often deliberately choosing what is easy over what is good and allow that behavior to make us question or doubt God’s goodness.

When I find myself in those moments of doubt and despair…wondering if goodness is real or just an infantile fantasy from which I have awoken…I have discovered it’s essential to reconnect with Nature…God’s Creation which bears the image, the DNA of our Divine Maker. It’s not uncommon to hear people talk about how inspiring nature can be, and how it helps to reconnect them with a sense of the Divine. In these dark and troubled times in which we live, however, I am finding it’s not enough for me to simply spend time with nature…I have to allow it to teach me how to live in the image of God. I believe this is the most important and immediate Spiritual Growth work human beings can take on…to begin studying nature and modeling ourselves after it.

Just a couple quick examples:

Twice a day…every day…the ocean tide rises and falls. It rolls in…it rolls out…it rolls in…it rolls out. There is a rhythm to life…there are hours to work and build up and charge in…and there are hours to fall back, to retreat, to rest. How do I honor those times in my own life, the way the sea honors the times of rising and receding?

My newborn son will, from time to time, smile the greatest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a smile that has melted my heart and made me question how I’m spending my days multiple times in just his first few weeks of life. It’s a smile that is pure in its joy…and for the life of me I cannot figure out what causes it. I can only assume it’s an unexplainable, undeserved gift from God…and I wonder if I can allow myself to rediscover that gift of joy in my own life.

This one I didn’t observe, but I read about it in The Hidden Life of Trees, which I’m slowly, delightfully working my way through: Trees communicate with one another, and they do so through a series of electric pulses that travel through the tree at a speed of 1/3 of an inch per minute. Humans send signals from their brains through their bodies within milliseconds. It’s no wonder that we crave immediate satisfaction, instant results, especially since we are designing a tech-dependent world that can actually keep pace with the synapses of our brains…if I don’t see results now, with the tap of a finger on a screen, I start getting panicky…and when I panic everything seems dire and slow and inevitable and doomed…and there’s no way out.

Well…what if I started living into the rhythm of a tree? I’m about 71 inches tall. If I took the same amount of time to think about my words and actions as a tree “thinks” about its own, it would take me about 3.5 hours to respond. That’s obviously not a pace that is helpful when you’re a hunter/gatherer fending off bears and having to survive storms and earthquakes. It is, however, a reliable pace for answering emails thoughtfully…engaging with other human beings in meaningful and appropriate ways…and reconnecting with God’s goodness that is endemic to every molecule of our beautifully made world.

There are many unanswerable questions about the mysterious Divine from whom all of us have come…but like all mysteries, there are clues to help us in our search…if we are willing to take the time and creative thought required to follow them.

Brian Gruhn