The Concrete God: Living, Breathing, and Loving

The Pope’s recent interview with America magazine has been haunting my evening thoughts and invading my daily prayer. The following passage I have tucked in my daily calendar, and every time I read it, the words simply stop me, each phrase pulling me into a vortex of thought and prayer. For me the passage has become lectio divina. Francis says:

“God manifests himself in historical revelation, in history. Time initiates processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in history, in the processes.

We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics. And it requires patience, waiting.

But the “concrete” God, so to speak, is today. For this reason, complaining never helps us find God. The complaints of today about how “barbaric” the world is–these complaints sometimes end up giving birth within the church to desires to establish order in the sense of pure conservation, as a defense. No: God is to be encountered in the world of today.”

By the “concrete” God, Pope Francis clearly does not mean “fixed in stone” but a God who lives within the web of relationships of time and space, palpable to our touch. The concrete God “is today,” beckoning our freedom from within the beautiful and broken world, promising to meet and accompany us there. And therein we discover surprising joy and hope – “Were not our hearts burning within us?” – revealing possibilities never before imagined, or long given up for dead.

We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes.

What would it feel like to think and pray with this God who is not fixed, like a Great Marble Statue, in the elite or far-away spaces “where power is exercised” but who enters without reserve into the stream of our humble tasks, decisions, and everyday commitments? Such a God would ignite hope, which is our capacity to breathe, and to imagine again.

In one of his most memorable meditations, Thomas Merton also paints an image of God who comes toward us palpably, and full of promise, in all things. Much in the pattern of St. Francis, the Pope’s beloved namesake, Merton describes every moment of our movement through time and space as an invitation to participate in “the wedding dance of the Lord.” He writes:

We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash–at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

Let us resolve today not to complain too much about “the barbaric world” or resign ourselves to its seemingly impenetrable systems of sin and dysfunction. Let us try instead to discern where God is calling us to enter with gentleness and love into the stream of concrete relationships that touch our day. Let us dare to ask: What are the “long-run historical processes” we most need to initiate today to weave new webs of friendship, hope, and life-giving relationships?

As Pope Francis reassures us almost daily, we do not need a “refresher course” to touch the living God. Let us live with the joy and abandon of people who really believe that God is to be encountered in the world of today. For the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

Where Love is alive in us, there will be little room left for apathy, despair, or fear.

AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca

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