Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (I John 1) transports me to a field of purple cosmos in southern Georgia during the early part of the 20th century. Two women are walking through the field and deciphering the mysteries of theology. Shug Avery comments to her friend Celie that God loves admiration more than anything else. Celie questions this, wondering if that doesn’t make God out to be on the vain side. No, no, not vain, Shug laughs, just wanting to share a good thing. Shug continues, I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it. Another of Shug’s theological insights into the nature of God centered on where and how we find and experience the presence of God. She says to Celie, Tell me the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought with me. And I think all the other folks did, too. They come to church to share God, not find God. Shug then asks Celie to describe what God looks like, and Celie responds with the traditional imagery of an old blue-eyed and gray-bearded white man wearing dazzling robes. Here’s the thing, says Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow. One little word of Shug’s description catches Celie’s attention, and she raises a question, It? Shug reponds, Yeah, It. God ain’t a He or a She, but a It. Celie can’t quite her head around that and asks, But what do it look like? Shug is patient. Don’t look like nothing. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything. Everything that is, or was, or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found it. Shug goes on to explain, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed, and I cried, and I run all around the house.
The first epistle of John can hardly be said to present the kind of panentheistic womanist theology of Alice Walker in The Color Purple, but it’s not so far off. The God proclaimed by the Evangelist – the creative Word present from the beginning of it all, is palpable, something to be touched and seen and heard. God is not a concept of the mind, something contained in a credal or doctrinal box. God is something to be experienced, to be felt, to be sensed. That this tangible Spirit is also described in anthropomorphic terms, Father and incarnate Son, does not mean the Divine is limited to imagery of an old blue-eyed and gray-bearded white man wearing dazzling robes. No, John’s point here, the point of Trinitarian formulations, is that the divine Presence is relational. It is what Shug discovered when she realized she was part of everything, not separate at all. She was in relationship with Creation, with the Creator, so much so, that if she cut a tree her arm would bleed. John says that he is making this proclamation about the God who is touched and heard and seen, so that humanity might experience true relationship, fellowship he called it, being a part of everything, not separate at all. It is a fellowship, John said in the beginning chapter of his gospel, with the Light that enlightens every person who enters the world. If we claim belief in God but don’t walk in the light of that fellowship, in the inter-connectedness of all creation and all humanity, we are living a lie, he says here.
I am one of those persons who lives a lot of my life in my head. On the Myers Briggs inventory, I don’t demonstrate a lick of sensory perception capacity. I am the consummate absent-minded professor, although that’s a misnomer. The mind is generally always present; it’s the other senses that are absent. When I first read these passages from Alice Walker, they impacted me deeply, and I began a long practice of trying to overcome my S deficiency and notice the color purple in the field when I pass it. I began to try and experience the wonders of God present in all of creation. Now, I do some of my best praying and fellowshipping with God in my walks through the woods, where I have learned to notice the colors purple and red and green and yellow and brown and blue all around me. The trees and the air and the birds remind me of John’s proclamation – that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen, which we have touched – this we proclaim to be the Word of Life. This practice has helped me deepen my connections with that incarnate Word who came to earth and for 33 years experienced with all of his senses the wonders of the physical and spiritual world we inhabit. What a fellowship, what a joy divine, to get out of my head and learn what it is like to really see and hear and feel the presence of God. Sometimes it makes me feel like running around the house, laughing and crying.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.