by Diana Butler Bass
Where is God?
I used to sit next to Diana in class at college. If I remember right, we were in Greek 3 together, writing exegetical papers for Dr. Silva on the book of Galatians. I bet she got a better grade than I did; I should of copied off of her papers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend it to you, not because I knew Diana briefly in college, but because this is a marvelous book.
Answering the question, Where is God? is a noble yet difficult task – at least for those of us who struggle with the question and strongly desire a non-trite answer. Diana delivers. And right up front, her last chapter is a masterpiece. The chapters can be summarized by the common heading/thread based on the attempt to answer this question:
- “Where is God?” and the Dirt
- “Where is God?” and Water
- “Where is God?” and the Sky
- “Where is God?” and Roots
- “Where is God?” and Home
- “Where is God?” and the Neighborhood
- “Where is God?” and the Commons
As I said above, the last chapter was my favorite…
In this chapter she summarizes the whole of the book
“Spirituality is about personal experience—the deep realization that dirt is good, water is holy, the sky holds wonder; that we are part of a great web of life, our home is in God, and our moral life is entwined with that of our neighbor. But none of this is for the sake of feeling good, individual prosperity, or guaranteeing a blessed afterlife. It is about tracing the threads of the interconnected universe, about finding God in nature and in community—and, in finding God, discovering that we really are one. The spiritual revolution is a protest movement against forms of religion that have lost the binding vision of peace, wisdom, and equanimity here on earth. But for a spiritual revolution to make any real difference, it must reclaim the primal sense of religion—the “we”—the power that binds us to one another, to God, and to the world. To encounter God here, we must walk out of buildings and discover the life of the commons.”p. 238
If we understand that we are dirt, that God is the ground of all that is, well, then, we might think twice about how we treat soil. If water is the river of spiritual and physical life, we will care about what we are doing to watersheds. If air sustains us and we are made of stardust, then the sky and what happens to it matters. Knowing our own roots is the first step in knowing ourselves and recognizing our common humanity. Making a home is a radical act of claiming a place in the world. Being neighborly is the path to empathy, of enacting the Golden Rule. Building the commons, the “we” of our world house, is to pull the vision of heaven out of the clouds to earth here and now. We are constantly creating a sacred architecture of dwelling—of God’s dwelling and ours—as we weave nature and the built environment into a web of meaning. Awe and action are of a piece.p.274
The underlying idea that Diana is making accessible is Panentheism, which “is the idea that God is with or in all things. A nuance to be sure, but an important one. Panentheism recognizes the distinctions between things, at the same time that it affirms the indwelling force of spirit (typically called God) that draws all things into relationship with all other things.”
This book connects the idea of creation (life and death) where God creates us out of the dirt, with re-creation where Jesus tells us we must be born of water, and the declaration of the heavens of the glory of God. The heritage of our tribes and ancestry and our abodes forms a central place in our search for God as well. Finally, She connects the great commandments of the Bible – loving God and loving others.
If you are growing in your faith journey, are from some version of early faith that needs either remodeling or revolutionizing then this book will give you some guidance and hope. If you are just interested and nothing has really grabbed your attention, give this book a read.
Diana describes her own journey (revolution) in a provocative way:
I have had three conversions in my life, each time seeking a deeper awareness of God. The first was in the summer of 1975, when I left my childhood faith, which I had inherited from my parents, and embraced evangelical Protestantism, a form of faith that seemed empowering and meaningful. The second was in the early 1990s, when I left evangelicalism (which proved more constraining than I had thought) and embraced liberal Christianity as embodied in the Episcopal Church. The third conversion began on September 12, 2001, when the radio was playing “What a Wonderful World” and I realized that I did not think the world was wonderful. Indeed, I thought the world was frightening, a place to be endured. Although it took me some time to understand, I had largely wanted church to protect me from the world, a community offering the comforting arms of a benevolent Father in Heaven, familiar rituals, a strengthening meal, and that promised eternal reward for being good. I had experienced both conservative and liberal forms of this church, but came to realize that they were different forms of a very similar thing, two versions of faith in the same vertical God. My third conversion was not about rejecting church (as the living expression of Jesus in the world), Christianity, or faith. Rather, my third conversion was about leaving behind the vertical God and elevator church. The third conversion is a turning toward God-with-us and a hope for faith community that risks stepping off the elevator. This conversion loves the world, seeks God with the world in all its beauty and pain. It is a quest to find others who have experienced the same—and a dream that together we can build a spiritual architecture of loving God and neighbor, the God who dwells with us in grace. Once I believed in a God who was both here and up there (as in “up” in heaven); now I experience God as the one who is both here and out there (as on the “edge” of the horizon). Once I encountered awe when considering a majestic and holy divinity, singing praises to the God who would save me from this sinful earth. Now, I am moved by the love that enlivens the earth and the mystery that hovers just beyond sight. My orientation shifted. And the change of perspective from vertical to horizontal amounts to a personal spiritual revolution. On September 12, I converted to the world, the dwelling place of the divine.p. 277
I loved this book. If you want more from Diana Butler Bass, she writes regularly here: https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/
Check out her other books as well: