Probably it is because I am educated as a theologian, I look for things perhaps other people do not see. When people talk about God or Jesus, I listen fairly carefully. When I read things where people are describing what God is up to, again I read fairly carefully. I have faith in God. I have faith that God is at work in the world. But I also know there is no way I can tell you exactly who God is or exactly how God works in this world.
The job of a theologian is to try to describe this God who works in the world. And the job is to describe to the best of our ability how that God works in the world. I have learned that theology is not the same thing as God. God exists and works in the world whether or not theologians try to describe this work.
I also know that theologians are not all professional. Not all theologians are at work as priests or teaching in some kind of college religion program. Of course, there are theologians doing both of those jobs. But there are countless other theologians out there who probably don’t see themselves as theologians and have not received a dime to do theology or offer any theological advice. These are what the church calls “lay people.” I try to listen very carefully when they speak or write.
One of the things I like to do is pay attention to how other theologians describe the God they have encountered. So I am like a sleuth in waiting. When I read or hear someone begin to describe God, I come out of hiding. And so it was that I was sleuthing when I began to read the first chapter of Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World. Basically, Taylor’s book is about finding God in various places in the world---finding God in places other than churches, synagogues, and mosques. I was intrigued.
Her first chapter is about waking up to see God in some different places. One predictable place to find God is in nature. That is no surprise, but it is surprising how many of us forget that we know this is true. And so we don’t look for God or we go trudging off to some church so we can find God. As she develops the chapter, Taylor moves from seeing tracks of God in nature to the place of worship in which she has spent much of her life. It is obviously true that God can be found in those houses of worship, too.
She talks about doing things in the churches that were meaningful. It was a wonderful experience and she is full of gratitude for those experiences. She said, “…it was as if we were building a fire together, each of us adding something to the blaze so that the light and heat in our midst grew. Yet the light exceeded our fire, just as the warmth did. We did out parts, and then there was more. There was More.” (5) I was captivated by her use of the word, “more.”
There was “more.” No big deal. That is like a coach saying the team is better than the sum of the parts. So is a group within a church. We each do our thing, but our things add up to more than we could have expected. Is it a miracle? In a way, yes. The miracle is God. I realized Taylor had added to the mix God’s Presence. That Presence is always “More.” And that can be capitalized.
I like that way of talking about God---about “More.” I realized Taylor had given me a new synonym for God. God? Oh yes, you mean More! That is a fascinating image for God. I read on in her chapter for more to learn.
She talked about the meaningful work that went on in the church. She writes, “Still, some of us were not satisfied with our weekly or biweekly encounters with God…We wanted More.” (5-6) As I pondered the theology that Taylor was using to talk about her God, I began to appreciate it in deeper ways. In effect, she was telling me something about the God she experiences, but also warning me there is more---More.” Essentially, she was telling me that she does not know it all. And neither will I.
I quote one final piece from that chapter. She wisely confesses, “The only reality I can describe with any accuracy is my own limited experience of what I think may be God: the More, the Really Real…” (7) I know that I can only do the same. I can share my own limited experience of God, but there is More. Any theologian can do as much. We can all pool our experience and add our theologies. That might be impressive. But there is always More.
Instead of being depressed about this, I am thrilled. Instead of being disappointed, I am delighted. My quest for God will be ongoing; indeed, it will be eternal. That is a race I will never win and I couldn’t care less. The race is it. It is thrilling and delightful. And there is always More.
I have grown as a theologian. I have found a nice, new way of describing the God I have experienced and can only describe in my own limited way. Now I know there is always More.