Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
I got up before sunrise this morning and went out and sat on the deck. The wind was fierce as it seemed to pull the waves toward shore. They were noisy, crashing into each other as they fought for a place on the shore. And in that moment, just before dawn, the light seems to hover over the deep, peeking from behind the horizon, asking you to stop and look and, just for a moment, to imagine something that is yet to be, to imagine something that is yet unknown. (Yes, I’m on vacation!) I love the beach. I do NOT like the crowds or the traffic or the sun frying my skin. I will drive right past the growing crowd at Buc-ee’s, since I don’t really understand what that’s all about anyway (I mean, they have nice restrooms and all but do you really need a whole pie for your car trip?). But I love the beach. I love sitting there in the silence and listening to the waves and feeling the wind and experiencing that moment just before dawn when everything is still, when everything is as it should be, that moment before creation dawns, before the light comes and the world begins trying to yet again mold itself and its thoughts into something that is comfortable and known.
This speech of Paul’s is not a treatise against religious icons and items of worship. It is against the notion of pulling God down into one’s world, into what can be understood, can be fully known. It is against the idea of being satisfied that you have by some miracle figured it all out and can check it off your ever-growing to do list. Paul is pushing his hearers to imagine, to imagine something beyond themselves, something beyond what they know. He is calling them to plunge into the depths beneath the crashing waves and the fierce winds and to see, maybe for the first time, what you’ve been missing all along.
We hear much about experiencing God’s presence, as if we are somehow running around looking for a God who is eluding us, sort of playing hide-and-seek with our spiritual well-being or in some way walling him or herself off from us. But here Paul is talking about much, much more than just experiencing. He is talking about allowing ourselves to imagine beyond what we know, to imagine this unknown God who so wants us to know in the deepest part of our being. I don’t really think that Jesus walked this earth and taught what he taught to give us a book of doctrines or a list of what we should be doing as Christians. I also don’t think we were ever intended to be handed a full and complete picture of who God is. What we were given in Jesus’ life was something much more profound, something much more valuable. We were given the gift of having our imaginations opened enough for God to fill them. Jesus did just enough to peak our imaginations about God so that we would continue to imagine God on our own.
Imagine it until it is. And then, close your eyes. The artist Paul Gauguin once said “I shut my eyes in order to see.” So, do not look at things the way they are. But instead, imagine…there is God, in whom you live and move and have your being. And then plunge in–into the unknown depths, into a world that you can only imagine with a God that so wants to be imagined.
Jesus does not respond to our worry-filled way of living by saying that we should not be so busy with world affairs. He does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives…He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities…Jesus does not speak about a change of activities, a change in contacts, or even a change of pace. He speaks about a change of heart. (Henri Nouwen)
Grace and Peace,