Monday, November 2, 2009

When God Shows Up

How many times have you heard the phrase, usually after some intensely emotional church event, retreat, camp, worship night, etc..., "God showed up tonight" or "I love it when God shows up, it was awesome!"? When I hear this it grates on me. God showed up? Like a party guest, he knocked on the door, waited for you to let him in and then ate all your pretzels? Or was it more like the Aladdin genie who, with a rub of the lamp, popped out ready to give you your heart's desires? What do we mean by this?

Certainly there are times in scripture that give us some basis of this "showing up" phenomenon. There was the Holy of Holies in the temple where God permanently crashed, there was God talking to all sorts of people in the Old Testament (Moses in a burning bush, Elijah in a cave, Gideon, etc...), he arrived in tongues of fire at Pentecost. So let's not dismiss that perhaps God does indeed "show up" at times. What strikes me though about these examples, is that they are all to some extent physical manifestations of God (as long as we read the stories literally). Voices, bushes, flames - God showed up in ways that were direct, physical and validated in a sensory manner.

Is this what we mean when God shows up at the latest worship night? I hesitate to argue the point, but most likely no one saw any physical manifestations of God (unless someone spotted his outline in a grilled cheese...) The intended meaning is usually something akin to "I felt God's presence." Again, nothing wrong with this, that's a powerful feeling to be in the presence of the divine.

Yet, this statement feels to me a little juvenile, perhaps based too much on emotion. I think it feels this way to me because I believe God is everywhere. I know with every breath I take he is the sustainer, with every bud that grows that he is the creator, with every relationship built that he is the glue, with every trial faced that he is the healer. The idea behind the Pentecost was that that God left his spirit here to do his work among us, not just in prayer meetings or church services or summer camps, but in everything.

Perhaps, what really happens in settings such as church is that we are finally able to remove the multiplicity of distractions that close our eyes to God around us. In those moments we become aware of the closeness, the intimacy of our relationship. Perhaps it is not that God "shows up" but, in fact, we who "show up". The party has been going on the whole time, God has been in the house eating pretzels all the while, and finally we took time to stop, look around, knock on the door and join.

So when we say, "God showed up" it seems to me that the onus is on God to make an appearance - as if once in a blue moon he takes to the red carpet and graces us with his presence. In fact, every moment of every day he is there. The onus is on us to realize it, to see grace in the day to day, to interrogate what it is that is closing our eyes to it. Perhaps it takes a worship night to lead you to that place, maybe it's a quiet walk in a park while the leaves fall, it could be a the feeling of belonging as you tuck into turkey dinner with your family, perhaps a pint at the pub with great conversation and chicken pot pie. Whatever it is, God is there - it's up to us to see him.

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