The past few months have been a good struggle with theology in practice, trying to see and feel how the often very academic-sounding theology I’m reading might help to frame or reframe the experience of ordinary living, and how ordinary living in turn reshapes my thinking about theology.
In my introduction to Buddhism class I was introduced to the idea of Indra’s Net – in which every intersection of an infinite web holds a jewel that reflects the light of every other jewel in the net. It is a beautiful addition to how I think about the Unitarian Universalist principle of “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.” It holds infinity in a way I can nearly manage to contemplate it without getting existentially dizzy. Because if each jewel is reflecting every other jewel, then every jewel holds pictures of its own self reflecting all the other jewels, in a hall-of-mirrors kind of infinity.
If I am making any sense of the little snippets of recent developments in quantum physics, it’s also not so far off from what they’re coming up with to explain… stuff. The illustration I’ve seen on Facebook of a new model for a Theory of Everything looks like ->drum roll<- a jewel! Some day soon, perhaps this summer, I will make a serious attempt to learn more about what physics has to teach, but even with my very limited understanding, I can’t help bursting out with a “Wow!” of awe and wonder.
And then there’s theology. Last Sunday I heard Kate Braestrup, one of my writing and UU heroes, preaching. (In our pulpit! *happy sigh*) She passionately declared that her theology can be summed up in three words: God. Is. Love. It’s an assertion I began making somewhat apologetically several years ago, when I felt pressure to come to some way of translating the word “God” so that I could hear what others were trying to say when they use that word, without reacting like a knee-jerk atheist and dismissing them as superstitious or silly. (At least not immediately.)
Then I brought my little three-word theology to seminary. While I am certainly not alone in my theology, I began to experience what is called “push-back,” as in “Let me push back on that a little bit,” the current academic version of “Oh, bless your heart, that is *so sweet,*” before they proceed to toss big, heavy ideas – centuries of complicated theological thought plus all the latest, sharpest constructs – at your naïve little theological idea, which suddenly looks like a chipmunk on a busy highway.
I am a religious liberal, a believer in the idea that revelation is not sealed, which means I need to be willing, if my little chipmunk gets flattened out there, to admit that my theology is too fragile, too small, too insubstantial to survive the tests of experience, reality, Truth.
So far, for me, the chipmunk lives. God as love still captures the essence of my faith, the conviction that what gives life meaning and purpose is love. Kate Braestrup sums up the practical application of “God is love” this way: Be as loving as you can, as often as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you live. (in Marriage & Other Acts of Charity, p. 61) She answers the “Why?” question in a single word: “Because.”
So, now we go back to Indra’s net. Or web. Imagine that little chipmunk of love, reflected in each dewdrop strung on that infinite web, and reflections of the reflections contained in each… in talking about how she responds to the problem of suffering and evil, Kate replies that in those situations, you look for the love, and there you find God. If chipmunks creep you out, think of something you like better, but I am pretty happy with the idea of a loving little chipmunk darting through every situation, always making it safely to the other side to come perch once again in our palm, turning an acorn in its tiny paws to nibble away the shell and feast on the luscious nut within.
How’s THAT for an odd theology lesson? And I’ll leave you to ponder why, but I’ll also share here this animation that somehow seems to me to be closely related to all of this. Here, lamb = love.