Lately, I have been practicing meditative stillness as the sun sets, most days anyway. One day a couple of months ago, I lay in bed, floating upon light and watching the trees out of my bedroom window. Rather than move into the evening, this time of day is good for deep rest and reflection, without bulbs or blue screens. The trees – mature blue gums – were towering and dignified, with a pinkish, creamy coat of light.
Slowly, they became silhouettes, with branches of blackened, scraggy outlines, like they were drawn with an erratic charcoal hand. Yet there was balance in the lines. I felt very awake, alive, still. This is my favourite time in the 24 hour cycle and I often stay in darkness and allow creeping shadows to envelop me in this bed, in this shack, on this hill, in my mind. That day was special because I witnessed something never before known. At that moment, the sunset became a sacred experience. It was not necessarily the bright colours or the art of it (although that was wonderful) but rather the changing day revealed itself as a rhythm divine.
I have been searching for a number of years for new and improved images of divinity. There is not much comfort in traditional Theism anymore, in fact, like many I find the idea of a watchful, unpredictable, fatherly ultra-being, far away, but ever so close, scary and disturbing. Like some of ‘his’ representatives, “He” takes an ‘objective’ stance: analysing human action; sifting souls; demanding repentance; desiring worship; wanting justice; judging right and wrong; stressing love; distantly controlling. But it doesn’t feel like love, intelligent justice, freedom or soulfulness in relations with this disembodied Patriarchal god. To me now, it feels like spiritual poverty and powerlessness. And in this moment, a strange flash of immanence, of the realities and deep beautiful comfort of panentheism presented itself, like deep ecology. A slice of religious anti-logic, a moment of revelation, where that big, paternal figure became very small and what emerged instead was a rhythm, a divine movement, a sacred interchange, an ancient pulse, a natal beat, a cosmic shifting.
Most traditional Christian thinking says that nature is God’s handiwork and reflects a divine character, who is separate and removed, all powerful and absent, but at that moment I understood “God” again as the rhythms that surround us, the movement of the seasons, tide, planetary alignment and the recurring change from day to night. This is not just the creative work of God but is the very substance of divinity. What stays with me, even now, is a sense of wonder and surprise, a peaceful feeling of continuity, even perfection in the shifting, evolving cosmos. Have you ever had this type of experience of great wonder? Theologically speaking, I would say that “god” is in these things, in the universal movement of the days, in the rhythm of light and shade, in the song of the birds, in the changing sky colours and in the dark, deep restful and mysterious night which always comes, and in me as I meditate and watch. We are surrounded and permeated by a rhythm that stabilizes human life, provides consistency and clarity, as well as enhances and deepens wellbeing, not only humans, but all biological life. As I lay with the trees, sky and my revelation, brimming with rapt attention, the theology of Sallie McFague came alive.
She says that the world is the body of god.
A body enlivened and empowered by the divine spirit.
She says that this panentheistic model is on the side of the well-being of the planet.
She says it is a planet infused with spiritual breath, in each – one and all.
She says this “god” is the breath of our breath and we are also within “god,” whether we live or die.
She says creation is the place of salvation.
This model makes sense to me; it is incarnational and organic. The universe is a divine body which encompasses us, but is also within me, within you and in daily, cosmic rhythms. A friend in Sydney has realized he has been intuitively scheduling his days around changing tidal movements, for surfing reasons. What fabulous body theology! I’m sure McFague would approve. These rhythms, pulsing moments and cycles of change can have beautiful impact on how we open to life, how we locate ourselves within the natural forces. For me, that dusky stillness continues – most days anyway – for the purpose of peace and returning. I would love to hear how you might be embracing sacred rhythms of your own?
Sallie McFague, The Body of God – An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Augsberg Fortress Press, 1993.