Where is God?
Wow, Luke. All right. You jump right to it with the big questions, don’t you?
Yes, I do. And yes, that’s a big question. A huge one. That’s a gargantuan question, in fact. That’s the question for the ages.
Where is God?
Who hasn’t asked that question? I’m pretty sure—I hope, actually—that no one is exempt from this question. It’s not reserved for a certain socioeconomic status or a certain group of people. It’s not just for those on the fringes of society, or for the “upper echelons.” The poor struggle to answer this question with their experience, and the rich struggle to answer this question with their education. Yet we all struggle to answer this question. Am I right?
Where is God in my life?
Now. Let me ask you another question. This one’s a fair bit easier.
Have you seen the Simpsons?
Yes. You know, Homer and Marge, Lisa and Bart, America’s animated family. The show is all about the antics of the Simpson family, as dysfunctional and wonky of a family as you can get, in their home town of Springfield.
This show was a big part of my childhood. In fact, the first episode aired November 1989, and I aired a month later. I literally grew up with this show. At times, the kids Lisa and Bart felt closer to me than anyone else did. (I said sometimes, not all the time, don’t worry too much!) Most of the time, I could relate to the dysfunction of this family as if it were my very own.
So. What does this show have to do with our introductory question, you ask? Weren’t we talking about God? Yes. We were. And I’ve noticed something in my years with this show, something very relevant to this larger-than-life, universe-sized inquiry.
In the episodes of the Simpsons, whenever God makes an appearance, He is depicted in a very certain way, in a very specific location. He—for He’s a he—is cast with a long silver beard that sways down to his solar plexus, a deep booming voice, and long arms with big yellow fingers that often point down to Springfield—or, more often than not, at Homer Simpson, or Bart—with dramatic and condemnatory finality.
And where is He?
God is sitting in Heaven, with gigantic grey sandals half-submerged in swirls of cloud as if He is standing in waves at the edge of the sea. In the Simpsons, God is certainly not to be counted among the wacky, wonky residents of Springfield. (In fact, God is so Out There, He has five fingers while the rest of the residents have only four.)
That sounds about right, doesn’t it? It’s Heaven, after all, and Heaven is Way Up There. Far Far Away, and Farther. It just makes sense, right?
Now. This is a TV show. A cartoon show, nonetheless, and it comes from the context of a very clear cultural situation: America in the 1990s and 2000s. Clearly this is not something to take too seriously in dealing with our question of “Where is God”. Right?
…. Long, dramatic, revelatory pause….
Except it’s not just the Simpsons that gives us a very specific “setting” for God. I grew up with the Simpsons, and I also grew up Catholic. And as Catholics, more often than not Heaven is also depicted as a location—it’s a place we aim for. In fact, our faith language as Catholics is steeped in this kind of imagery. We talk about how we’re pilgrims on this planet. We talk about how we’re just passing through because we want to eventually “get to Heaven.” We will then arrive at the pearly gates, and we’ll see St. Peter and the rest of the gang, and then we’ll be ushered inside for the Great Big Party. We tell jokes about the nice white rooms of heaven (where, incidentally, there’s always an open bar and the Protestants are in the next room over). We sing hymns about how we’re traveling on this road of life, how our present days are just a stop along the way, et cetera et cetera. We often talk about sainthood, too, as if we’re aiming for it, like we’ve got a pin and the Ten Commandments as our Google Maps for holiness, for goodness. Then when we die we’ll arrive at the afterlife, the everlasting party, the bright sunny spot in heaven where we’ll rejoice with the cherubim and the seraphim and where there will be no more pain or suffering because we’ll be in a better place. A better place, surely.
And God, in the meantime?
Of course God remains up there–that’s God’s House, and God is the master. We’ll be residing with God, once we finally get there. Right??
So here’s the thing about that. God, in this scenario of a beautiful celestial abode, also becomes this special otherworldly destination. God is then not even a person, really, but more a place to aim for. And distressingly, that’s literally like shooting for the moon.
If this is my answer to where God is–like he’s in Fairbanks and I’m in Orlando–how can I get to know God, and to love God? If that’s my goal, and if God is Up There, far far away in Heaven or the other side of the universe or beyond the nearest black hole, or in Fairbanks, Alaska, how can I maintain my faith? What does this distance mean for the completion and for the purpose of my life–for my healing, my happiness, and especially the wholesomeness of my relationships with others?
What happens when I’m yearning to be close to God, longing with all the depth and power of my heartbeats to connect and be united with God, and I don’t know God as God is because God is so far away?
Now that just sounds ludicrous. Doesn’t it? I mean, surely you say, that’s not true. That’s just poppycock. God is not limited to one location, one city or one state or one country or continent even. Of course not. We’re talking about GOD!
We are talking about God, and I could sit here and tell you that God is present, that God is right here and right now and God is manifest inside of you, living and breathing and crying out for you, for your love, for yourself, INFINITELY longing for you, yearning and hoping and longing more strongly than anything you’ve ever longed for, ever. I could use my strongest and most persuasive language to tell you that God is here, everywhere, right now. God is in you, God is…
But that’s the thing. Words fail when it comes to this moment. Words fail in trying to explain Where is God.
The question is for you to answer honestly, not for me to answer for you, no matter my eloquence (or perhaps lack of it). Ultimately, it is YOUR experience of God that counts, YOUR answer to sit with, to live with, to feel, to not just know but to know.
That’s why I invite you to do just that: to take time, now, with this question, as if you’re asking it for the first time.
Where is God?
Answering this question honestly determines how you will live the rest of your life.
Where is God in my life?
My invitation to you, now, is to prepare a space and a few moments for meditation, and to answer this question honestly for yourself, as you are. Be with this question, and be with what comes up–the answers, or perhaps the lack of them.
A guided description of the meditation is below for you to follow.
Invitation to Meditation on the Presence of God:
If you’re not already there, find a place of quiet and ease. Sit in a relaxed, but not slouched, posture, either upright in a chair or in a cross-legged position. Close your eyes, turn off the TV and/or music, and whatever other distractions are in your surroundings. Prepare to focus on your breathing. Take a deep, slow breath, inhaling fully, and then exhale just as slowly. Take another breath in, and then breathe out at the same pace. Take five more of these slow, deliberate breaths, and then let your breath return to normal.
Relax. At this moment, as your breathing returns to its normal rate and rhythm, go inward. Assess where God might be in your day. Ask yourself—where did I see God? Was I able to? Or was I completely unable to? Am I in darkness? What is that area of darkness? When did I experience this darkness? What time of day? Who was I with? What were the surroundings? Was I at work, at school, at home, or someplace new? How long did this feeling last? Notice these answers. Let the feelings go through you. Do not try to stop them, or to judge them. Let yourself open up to whatever it is that you experience, without trying to stop it, label it, assign blame, either to yourself or to another person.
Or: did I feel God’s presence throughout my day? Was there Love, openness, light? Where was I? Who was I with? What were the surroundings? Was I at work, school, on the road, at the market, or at home? Or somewhere new? How long did this feeling last? Notice these answers. Let the feelings go through you. Do not try to stop them, or to judge them. Let yourself open up to whatever it is that you experience, without trying to stop it, label it, assign blame, either to yourself or to another person. Let yourself observe these feelings, and receive them openly.
Sit with whatever arises in you as you delve into these questions—either the darkness or the light. Take at least five minutes with these questions, perhaps ten. If you want to sit longer, please feel free. If you need to, write in a journal or some other place of importance at the end of your sitting.