Waiting for a flight from Washington DC to Brussels, a couple days ago, I was re-reading Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson. A young passenger, with earphones tucked into his ears and texting on his iPhone, looked over at my book and me. “I used to believe in that God stuff,” he said. “I can’t believe in the old guy up there in heaven, running the show down here,” he continued. “I can’t either,” I replied with a chuckle.
Then he glanced at my nametag dangling from my attaché case, which identified me as an ‘historical theologian.’ (The fellow had good eyesight!) “But you are a theologian,” he said. “But you don’t believe in God?” “I do,” I said “but not the old image of God we inherited from the Middle Ages….I think God is right here with you and me and all the people waiting for the flight to Brussels.”
He pulled his earphones from his head, put his iPhone down, and for the next half hour we talked about faith experiences, contemporary life, his lack of interest in any religion — he was raised a Belgian Catholic — and yet his real desire to experience something ‘deeper in life….something spiritual.’
I told the young guy, on his way home after two weeks in Washington DC, that I meet a lot of people who are turned off by institutional religion. They are turned off by the institution because it does not speak to them in a language they understand; nor does it speak about human life issues they find important. As one of my friends said, we need to change the conversation……
Over the noise in the airport, our boarding group was called. We were both in group three but our seat numbers were far apart. As we started walking to the gate, I remembered a quote from my spiritual guide, Richard Rohr: “In solitude, at last, we’re able to let God define us the way we are always supposed to be defined—by relationship: the I-thou relationship, in relation to a Presence that demands nothing of us but presence itself. Not performance but presence.”
“You know,” I said to the young guy as we got closer to the agent checking boarding passes, “I really think you will find the divine presence you are looking for if you put yourself on ‘airplane mode’ from time to time. We all need quiet time to simply be and reflect. We need to disconnect, occasionally but regularly, from all the noise around us.”
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living,” Richard Rohr once said. “We live ourselves into new ways of thinking…”
Sometimes it takes a long time for us to ‘really get it’: What makes something secular or profane is precisely whether one lives on the surface of it. It’s not that the sacred is here and the profane is over there. Everything is profane if you live on the surface of it, and everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it