A couple Sundays ago, I placed a picture I had taken in 2003 on the communion table face up but unseen by the congregation. I used the picture as an illustration for Scott Bruner and Cindy Hartman, whom I had invited to “come and see” where God lived. I had been preaching on the last half of John 1, where the first disciples are given the same invitation by Jesus, “come and see,” when inquiring about where he was staying. The same invitation was then given by Phillip to Nathaniel when Phillip was telling Nathaniel about Jesus and Nathaniel asked, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I was more interested in the process of inviting others to partake in something special at the communion table and thereby invite new friends and neighbors into a relationship and with an encounter with the living God, and had simply intended the picture to be one particular “living encounter” I have had with God in a deep and abiding experience through which I have had a life-giving experience of God. Later, Scott Kirtley told me he “thought I was going to hold up a mirror,” as a representation of “where God lives,” and I told him that would have been a great idea, and if I ever preach this sermon again I’ll go with that “reveal” at the end instead of holding up my picture (especially since I didn’t really elaborate on why I would say this is a view of “where God lives.” Well, now I have that opportunity, so let me explain why I used this particular picture as something I was excited about enough to get people out of their pews and walk to the communion table with me to “check it out.”
In the summer of 2003, I had an excellent opportunity to spend 2 weeks at a spiritual retreat center in central Wyoming called “Ring Lake Ranch.” I was there primarily to take part in a workshop with a very gifted theologian named Belden Lane, who writes a lot about the spiritual value of geographical context. Some of his excellent books are called “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality,” and “Landscapes of the Sacred.”
While I was there, I did quite a bit of hiking and horseback riding and thinking and writing. The context really spurs on the creative spirit. One day when I was hiking around some hills that had been pushed up by a glacier moving down the valley millions of years ago, I felt a kind of “tap” on my shoulder, and when I turned around, the barren tree I had first noticed when I walked past it and down the mountain a few steps had sprung to life with the foliage of a bright white cloud. The story of St. Francis standing in front of a tree in the wintertime and inviting it to “Tell me of God!” came to mind. In the story, the tree springs to life with foliage and fruit. In my own experience, the harmonization of the tree and the sky combined to bring about another miracle of revelation, and I had the camera around my neck, so I captured the moment on film. To me, the revelation is that the world works in concert in ways that we infrequently recognize or pay attention to, but sometimes the moment just slaps us in the face like a Zen master. I am most interested in the moments in which I/we sometimes catch a glimpse of the harmony that I believe is Divine. This happens for me when I am attentive to the outdoors, but it also happens when I am attentive to the relationships that fill my life and the creativity of the human spirit.
Perhaps God does mold our minds and cultures with context and environment to receive particular glimpses of the Truth. Or, perhaps our location in life bleeds into our creation of characteristics that we ascribe to God. Either way, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning said
Earth’s crammed with heaven,And every common bush afire with God;But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,And daub their natural faces unaware.