God’s exuberant energy

God is ineffable, that is the first truth that we hold about God. That means that God cannot be imagined or ever circumscribed in a concept.

Apr 26, 2024

Spiritual Reflection - Fr Ron Rolheiser

All things considered, I believe that I grew up with a relatively healthy concept of God. The God of my youth, the God that I was catechized into, was not unduly punishing, arbitrary, or judgmental. Granted, he was omnipresent so that all of our sins were noticed and noted; but, at the end of the day, he was fair, loving, personally concerned for each of us, and wonderfully protective to the point of providing each of us with a personal guardian angel. That God gave me permission to live without too much fear and without any particularly crippling religious neuroses.

But that only gets you so far in life. Not having an unhealthy notion of God doesn’t necessarily mean you have a particularly healthy one. The God who I was raised on was not overly stern and judgmental, but neither was he very joyous, playful, witty, or humorous. Especially, he wasn’t sexual, and had a particularly vigilant and uncompromising eye in that area. Essentially he was somber, heavy, and not very joyous to be around. Around him, you had to be solemn and reverent. I remember the Assistant Director at our Oblate novitiate telling us that there is no recorded incident, ever, of Jesus having laughed.

Under such a God you had permission to be essentially healthy. However, to the extent that you took him seriously, you still walked through life less than fully robust and your relationship with him could only be solemn and reverent.

Then, beginning more than a generation ago, there was a strong reaction in many churches and in the culture to this concept of God. Popular theology and spirituality set out to correct this, sometimes with an undue vigor. What they presented instead was a laughing Jesus and a dancing God, and while this was not without its value, it still left us begging for a deeper literature about the nature of God and what that might mean for us in terms of a health and relationships.

That literature won’t be easy to write, not just because God is ineffable, but because God’s energy is also ineffable. What, indeed, is energy? We rarely ask this question because we take energy as something so primal that it cannot be defined but only taken as a given, as self-evident. We see energy as the primal force that lies at the heart of everything that exists, animate and inanimate. Moreover, we feel energy, powerfully, within ourselves. We know energy, we feel energy, but we rarely recognize its origins, its prodigiousness, its joy, its goodness, its effervescence, and its exuberance. Moreover, we rarely recognize what it tells us about God. What does it tell us?

The first quality of energy is its prodigiousness. It is prodigal beyond our imagination and this speaks something about God. What kind of creator makes billions of throwaway universes?  What kind of creator makes trillions upon trillions of species of life, millions of them never to be seen by the human eye? What kind of father or mother has billions of children?

And what does the exuberance in the energy of young children say about our creator? What does their playfulness suggest about what must also lie inside of sacred energy? What does the energy of a young puppy tell us about what’s sacred? What do laughter, wit, and irony tell us about God?

No doubt the energy we see around us and feel irrepressibly within us tells us that, underneath, before and below everything else, there flows a sacred force, both physical and spiritual, which is at its root, joyous, happy, playful, exuberant, effervescent, and deeply personal and loving. God is the ground of that energy. That energy speaks of God and that energy tells us why God made us and what kind of permissions God is giving us for living out our lives.

God is ineffable, that is the first truth that we hold about God. That means that God cannot be imagined or ever circumscribed in a concept. All images of God are inadequate; but, that being admitted, we might try to imagine things this way. At the very center of everything there lies an unimaginable energy that is not an impersonal force, but a person, a loving self-conscious mind and heart. From this ground, this person, issues forth all energy, all creativity, all power, all love, all nourishment, and all beauty. Moreover, that energy, at its sacred root, is not just creative, intelligent, personal, and loving, it’s also joyous, colorful, witty, playful, humorous, erotic, and exuberant at its very core. To live in it is to feel a constant invitation to gratitude.

The challenge of our lives is to live inside that energy in a way that honors both it and its origins. That means keeping our shoes off before the burning bush as we respect its sacredness, even as we constantly receive permission from it to be robust, free, joyous, humorous, and playful – without feeling we are stealing fire from the gods.

(Oblate Fr Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher, and award-winning author is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He writes a weekly column that is carried in over 90 newspapers around the world. He can be contacted through his website www.ronrolheiser.com)

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