The Eternal went on ahead to guide them during the day in a cloud shaped like a pillar; at night He appeared to them in a fire shaped like a pillar to light their way. So they were able to travel by day and by night. The Eternal did not remove the cloud pillar or the fire pillar; by day and by night it continued to go ahead of the people. –Exodus 13:21-22 (The Voice translation)
… I came to give life with joy and abundance. –John 10:10b (The Voice translation)
Leonard Nimoy passed from this world several days ago. Most remember him best as Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series. He was raised an Orthodox Jew (and remained active in the Jewish faith). Upon hearing of his death, I watched a video someone had posted on Facebook about how he’d created the split-fingered gesture of greeting for his Spock-character. He spoke of his Jewish roots and Yiddish rituals. In giving a benediction, the rabbis would spread their middle and ring fingers apart as they chanted the blessing. The hand gesture symbolized the Hebrew letter Shin which is the first letter in Shaddai (a name of God), shalom (God’s peace, completion), and Shekhinah (the name given to the feminine aspect of God which is said to have been created to live among humans, and gives blessing). He goes on to express the profundity that he experienced in that moment. He wanted to add that gesture to his character’s people group as a salutation.
As I watched the video, I felt an awe wash over me. The glory of God which rested in the Holy of Holies in the temple, and appeared as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night to the Israelites on their way to the promised land, was, according to Jewish tradition, feminine. The blessing of God is feminine. The tangible presence of God among mankind is feminine. In Christian traditions, we call that glory, blessing and presence: The Holy Spirit. Most of my life, I’ve heard God is masculine. Rarely have I heard that God is feminine. When I read The Shack several years ago, it was the first time I’d seen in print God portrayed as a woman. The book revolutionized many people’s view of God. And many others condemned the portrayal of God as a woman.
During this Lenten season, I’m trying to practice the fast in Isaiah that I referenced last week. I’m trying to focus on how to give of myself to my ‘neighbors’ more … what sacrifices I can make for the good of others. This week, I want to do some inner work on how I view God. How does it sit with me to have God look differently than a white, straight, successful, male? Can I worship a God who resembles a homeless teen, a transgendered man, a battered woman, a person of another race? In the churches I’ve participated in throughout my life, God is seen as all-powerful, financially blessing those who live a certain way, being ‘always on my side’ (to quote a popular worship song). I believe that perspective of God has a place for us. We need God to rescue us. We need to have confidence that God will provide for our needs. But how do we continue to worship God when God seems powerless … or worse, silent … in the midst of terroristic groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, or when we only have enough money for either rent, food or medications?
What do we do with our faith when God looks like those we’ve put at the bottom of the religious power heap? Will we give their perspective of God credibility? In the agony of lost dreams, lost lives, lost innocence, how do we ‘keep the faith’? How, indeed …
A friend’s husband died. They had a strong faith that God would heal. Healing didn’t come. Instead, devastation, grief, and helplessness encircles a widow’s heart.
But, peace is coming. Sometimes, only for a moment. Sometimes, a little longer. Sometimes, only to be flooded out by a wave of doubt and anger. But peace is coming. Shalom is coming. And her view of God … of life … of death … is broadening. And that broader perspective of God brings healing to her soul. Peace, shalom, heals. In evangelical churches, we’re not taught enough about the problem of suffering or powerlessness in our world. We’re not taught how to sit with or live through chronic illnesses or disorders. We’re taught to fight, have faith, not accept those experiences. When we don’t get the outcome we’ve hoped for, often shame floods our hearts. We didn’t pray correctly … we didn’t believe enough … we didn’t do the right things.
It’s our fault.
But if we can humbly acknowledge to God that we don’t understand, then we can begin to just be … Be in the presence of God … Be in the presence of others … Be human …. In that be-ing, maybe we can experience shalom and Shekinah … experience God in a way we never dreamed. A way that makes us want to share our material goods, and that shrinks the gap between the haves and have-nots. A way that enlightens a path to live less focussed on outer appearances and behaviors, and allows us to live in community with all of the reflections of God’s image. An image that isn’t limited by human standards. An image that is more than straight, white and male. An image that exudes an abundance of joy and life. An image where all are found in God.
A God worth worshipping.
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