Disregarding Omni-presence

Posted on September 20, 2011


The tagline for this blog is “searching for God by any means necessary.” One idea within these words is an affirmation that the search for God is continual, beyond measure, and that the more we learn about the mystery of God, the more we understand how little we understand. This could result in hopelessness, a sense of, “Why try?” but for me, it doesn’t.

When I stop asking questions about God and instead search for God, I find myself much more content with the world. I am less concerned with right and wrong and more concerned with grace and peace. I am open to the moments of joy rather than worrying about the future. However, to do this, I need to disregard one of the classic attributes of God: omnipresence (that God is everywhere at all times.)

The idea of omnipresence is more of a philosophical idea than biblical one. The idea of a God that is omnipresent is greater than the idea of a God who is not omnipresent and since God is the greatest of all goods, God must be omnipresent (or God would not be God.) Phew! I’m sweating after all that bullshit, er, I mean, important philosophical inquiry.

I can happily affirm God’s omnipresence philosophically because who am I to tell God where to show up or avoid. At the same time, God is much harder to find than that. As I experience the world, there seem to be places God is not: death camps, rapes, abuse, oil spills, certain holiday gatherings with family. These things are so outside my understanding of God that I can barely look at them, much less look for God within them. There are also things that are so mundane that don’t seem to merit God’s incarnate beauty. Is God really with me every time I go to the bathroom. I get stage fright too easily for that theological premise. God can wait outside until I’m done doing my business. I’ll call if I need any help.

The question is: what if God was only in one place in the world? People would make mass pilgrimages to this one place. What if there were two or three sites that were holy places? (God may want a summer-home.) They would be revered and cherished and protected. What if God appeared in churches, synagogues, or temples? They would be filled with visitors.

Now, I do not want to let go of one of the dominant movements of scripture, which is God’s movement from one to many, from containment in the temple to freedom within the hearts of all people, but my brain doesn’t quite wrap itself around this idea: my psyche longs for a holy space that is different. The idea that every wave, chair, phone, song, person, food, book, every moment, and every thing contains or points to God neither makes sense to me or is practically helpful. There might be a glimmer of God in all things, but what good does that do me if I don’t see it?

A parallel: I can eat whatever I want. I can eat meat and potatoes. I can eat salad, fruits, candy or desserts. I can even eat things that shouldn’t be categorized as foods: Oreos, Doritos, Chix’n Nuggetz, mustard.

But I don’t. I find some things taste better, make me feel better, and provide me with the energy I need to do the things I want to do. I have to make choices based on my experiences in the past about what is going to give me what I want.

In the same way: God might be able to be found in a grain of sand, or in the stars, or a baby’s smile, or a flower petal, or whatever, but not by me. I do not experience God in every moment. Which is not to say that I don’t experience God in some moments. But for me, God is hard to find. I believe that some moments and places are more holy, contain more God-ness, than others.

But I don’t know where or when they are.

This is the pay-off of giving up omnipresence: when I recognize that at certain places and times I am (experientially) closer to God than at other, I am more attuned to the possibility of these moments popping up in front of me. I look for them. I try to be near places where God might be hanging around, not to force a manifestation, but because when I am around poor people, or nature, or children, or simplicity, or tears, or laughter, God usually shows up.

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