There are days I do feel that will be a dandy thing, one (very huge) less thing to deal with.
In fact, when I was around nineteen, I decided to ditch all the G-D stuff. It’s not a small decision mind you, for I have always been religious.
As a small child, I stared at the rain coming down and wondered if the gods were taking a bath. I watched as my mother dutifully keep up meager offerings on the only furniture in our sparse living room other than the two-seater sofa and the rumbling refrigerator, a most basic wooden altar Chinese religionists have in their homes, to ward off evil and seek goodwill from the powers.
Entertaining ourselves in those threadbare days included maximizing whatever resources we had. One of them was a student card for buses. So my older sibs and I sometimes hopped on a bus just to pass time. One day, while tailing my older sister, I found myself in a large white building with a huge cross on top. I haven’t left what that building represented since, until that day when I was nineteen.
It was a conscious choice that I made, not just some lackadaisical drift I allowed to happen. I told myself (and G-D) I was done trying to read and figure out G-D and pray, because, well, I was a busy person with many things to do, and this daily ‘read your Bible, pray every day’ thing just wasn’t in the overall oeuvre.
Was it teen assertion (a far better word than ‘rebellion’)? Was it the cumulative effect of unanswered prayers? Was it the tiresome need to establish that faith is a reasonable thing? Was it existential angst? Was it just sloth?
It’s probably all of that. So you can see, that having any faith is no walk in the park. Whoever came up with the ‘religion is just a crutch’ was probably never serious about their faith.
So that day, I set my foot down. It was enough, I am done, I would thus be free(r).
Except I wasn’t.
The only way I could describe it was that it felt like asphyxiation. Don’t worry, it wasn’t literal. But I felt cut off and deprived of something vital. It was near to the week, when I whimpered, “G-D” and I felt my lungs inflate again.
Perhaps Covid is triggering this memory.
I have needed G-D in many ways.
As a young child, G-D acted like an imaginary friend, and most wonderful as He is all-powerful. Into my teens, I would call on my best friend for everything from finding my lost keys to zapping the people making my life miserable.
G-D was also a fascinating idea to explore, and He came with a whole subculture of fervency and cause, which makes one feel energized and purposeful. I was always doing something or other in church, and it spilled over to some serious efforts at home and school to be better versions of myself.
But when I felt that breathlessness, I realised I had touched something deeper than all my Intention and Action. I had touched Being.
It would be another fifteen years later when I would encounter a vocabulary for it, thanks to Paul Tillich.
Tillich lived and worked during the era of the first world war when most of humanity was in the grip of deathly anxiety (not unlike the recent Pandemic I suppose, although we now live in a post-modern, secular time marked largely by crass individualism).
His famous reference to G-D as the Ground of Being felt fitting to me.
G-D was not a deity, or a being, among other beings. G-D isn’t a philosophical framework. G-D is not of our making or definition.
God is the Ground of Being, the ground of all my being, and yours.
A tree can ignore the ground it is rooted in, but the reality does not change with the tree’s dismissal of the ground!
You could be a hurting tree that isn’t proud of how you look or feel.
You could be a feisty tree that wants to wave and make waves.
You could be a battered tree that wonders if flowers and fruit are a thing of the past.
The Ground continues to hold you up.
When I was hurting badly with wounds that did not seem able to heal as I could not escape some conditions that would continue to deliver fresh wounds, G-D held me and suffused my being with a life and light that refused to be extinguished.
When I wondered if my life would measure up or amount to anything, I witnessed how G-D set conditions that fitted me, transforming my measures into ministrations.
When I consider how the years are wearing me down, G-D let me see surprising fresh buds of growth and possibilities.
But it could have been completely otherwise.
The difference is another choice I made: to pay attention to the Ground, develop a curiosity about it and be honest about my need.
I became a tree that developed an awareness of the ground I stand in and for the last two decades, I am learning to enjoy my need for the ground.
A tree and the ground are different though. Tillich rightly described God as the Unconditioned, and an impassable chasm exists. The hope for the tree to know its ground is for the Ground to enter the tree-realm.
What we need for this dependence to be real, active, and existentially engaging is organic relatability.
Jesus the Christ brings G-D to us in a powerful and particular way. He both experienced and transcended human conditions, and so becomes the most suited ground for us.
Indeed he says so himself:
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.” (John 15)
Jesus uses the grapevine, a common flora in his cultural context, to press the idea of dependence and connection. You cannot walk anywhere that has human habitation without encountering some small grapevine or winepress in the Near East of the time.
Even in our urban context, this picture of dependence greets us if we would see it.
Jesus’ words also challenge us to awaken to notice our attachments and dependencies and examine if we are rightly rooted so as to flourish.
As dependent beings, we will sink our roots into the ground. What ground have we allowed our roots to sink into? These three seem widespread today:
There is urgency for us to consider what grounds us. Our apathy and ignorance, hedonism, and anger are leading to high costs we cannot afford:
and a broken planet.
I guess the ground-up question is, what price do you and I pay when we refuse to care about G-D?