Sacred Stage of our Times
The title for this inspirational reflection comes from the end of the introductory chapter in a relatively new book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, by Diana Butler Bass. I do not know Bass personally, but I do like her writing and hope one day we might meet and get to know each other. This initial chapter was a very good read and I look forward to reading the entire book.
In effect, Bass is working off some recent polls testing the religious affiliations of the American population. I am aware of some of these studies, such the recent Pew studies. If effect some of the reporting is giving us ways of understanding why an increasing number of Americans have given up on what they call “institutional religion.” Even though church membership is dropping, a growing number of people say they are “spiritual, but not religious.” This fits a significant number of students who are sitting in my classes.
I think most of them would claim to believe in God, but they don’t go to church nor do they even see this as important. I laughed and said, “God is not in trouble, but the churches may be!” But it is not that simple. We could say a traditional view of God is also in trouble. Many people no longer believe in the kind of God with whom I grew up. As Bass says, “’Where is God?’ is one of the most consequential questions of our times.” Typically, the traditional God was “Someone out there.” God was remote and not involved in our messy world.
Bass puts it more graphically as she suggests the new version of God brings God down out of the sky into our messy world. She suggests, “God is with us. It is a wildly improbable turn of theological events to claim that God is with victims of war, terrorism, or natural disaster, with the valorous who run toward burning buildings or navigate flooding streets, and with those who mourn and doubt and even despair.” I will admit that I like the view that God is with us. God is involved.
Much of what Bass does in this chapter is not surprising or new to me. She and I have read similar people. But it is fun to see what she does with what she knows. And of course, her life has been different than my life. She has had her own unique experiences. And she shares some of her life within the chapter. That makes it very interesting to me.
I watched her share some of her life and then relate it to the developing analysis that was unfolding in that first chapter. I did not try to guess where she was going to go at the end of the chapter. She was talking about what she calls a “spiritual revolution” that is happening now. She then comments: “And this revolution rests on a simple insight: God is the ground, the grounding, that which grounds us.” (26) Clearly, she is making a big deal out of the God who is here and now---the God who is with us. I agree with her, so it makes sense to me.
She continued on that last paragraph in a way I found lovely. “We experience this when we understand that soil is holy, water gives life, the sky opens the imagination, our roots matter, home is a divine place, and our lives are linked with our neighbors’ and with those around the globe.” All this is the work of the God who is our ground and the God who grounds us.
This is not an airy, fairy-tale kind of theology. This is a theology about a God who is very involved with us---a God who is in the midst of our needs, our fears, our loves and our longings. All this has come as a gift from the pen of Bass. And then she wrote the last sentence of the paragraph. It was wonderful
Bass said, “This world, not heaven, is the sacred stage of our times.” Bass has been sneaky good! She has brought down into our messy world the God who once lived “out there”----distant and remote from us in our daily action. Many of us would go to church to commune with that God. While that is still possible, it is no longer necessary according to Bass. Instead, God is in our midst.
This world is where the action now takes place. God is no longer simply a heavenly Being---watching us and waiting for us to elevate our lives to be able to visit those heavenly places. Now the divine-human action takes place within this world. As she says, the world is our sacred stage. That is a powerful image.
It transforms the way we can look at our normal lives. In Bass’ view our normal lives are now being enacted on the sacred stage of the world. For me it is at the university---in the classroom and in the gym. It is in my granddaughter’s playroom and bedroom. Perhaps that makes us actors in a divine play. I trust finally it is going to be a comedy!