Watching the World Go By

Tonight #1 Son asked me how I could watch so much of the hurricane coverage. I thought he was scornful and asked him why? “No, Mom, I just don’t know how you can watch all this and not break down.”

Why am I watching it? Well, on Sunday at the very latest, I’m going to have to try to make some sense of why this has happened, and talk to a roomful of people about it. And to do that I have to understand what’s going on and why it occured and what other people are saying about it.

And I have to know what I believe about God’s involvement, or lack thereof. Didn’t I just preach this sermon? It was about the tsunami, and in it I asserted that I did not believe God had caused that disaster. I called on the people in my church to refuse to accept the notion that God destroyed people in southeast Asia to teach us a lesson in North America.

It was a good sermon, and the texts that week, Baptism of Christ Sunday, were, oh, so perfectly beautiful and painful and right. Where is God, I asked, when the waters close over our heads? I grew up Southern Baptist, you see, so my memory of being baptized is not a sprinkle but an immersion. I remember the long moment after the water closed over my head and the relief when it parted as my dearly loved minister brought me back to the surface.

So, I have to write another sermon about God and the flood.

I also have to pray.

Here’s my problem. The more progressive my theology becomes, the less accountable I hold God for much of anything, the less I want to ask God for, and the harder it becomes to pray for my own needs. Now, I don’t apply this to others. I do pray for them. But who in the, well, in the Heaven am I praying to? I’ve given up the grandfatherly fellow with the long white beard, and I’ve passed through my goddess phase, in which I learned to trust The Mother, a hard thing to do when you haven’t felt trust for the mother.

But somewhere, sometime, I went on to another place. My beloved Cousin Jack calls it being post-theistic. I have wondered what being post-theistic means for prayer. How does he pray? When we stayed at his house, and we sat down for dinner, he prayed. I don’t know what I expected, but what I heard was the old familiar language of a well-educated, elegantly-spoken Southern preacher, what I think of as a real prayer. You Episcopalians know how to pray beautifully, but it’s more than that. Somehow Cousin Jack can think big, tall thoughts that liberate God from our limiting definitions, but still pray as if God is something or someone who hears us and knows us.

We’re limited. We’re limited. I am, certainly. I can sit and watch the coverage and contemplate the deaths and the social injustice and talk about and read about it and even blog about it, but, oh my God, I go to bed and lie there like a stone because the God I have come to believe in is so detached from us, too much a scientist looking down on a lab full of rats, too much a big boy with an ant farm, too much and too little and I know I am limited in my understanding.

Then, thank God, I remember Jesus. I can talk to Jesus. When I look at the looters and wonder why they took so many sneakers, I stop and think of Jesus. Would he be sitting down to dinner with the governors and senators and cabinet secretaries? Would he be looking out the window of Air Force One at overflowing New Orleans and storm-shredded Biloxi? God, no. Oh, my God, no.

Jesus would be on the balconies with the families waving their pillowcases, or at the Superdome with the frightened old folks and the hungry children. Jesus would be walking the debris-strewn roads with wives looking for their husbands, comforting the man who saw his neighbors drowned bodies in the water as he hung on for dear life. Jesus would be in a neighboring state with the people who were smart enough and well-resourced enough to get away, but who are suffering now as they hear of the destruction back home and wondering how they can help when their homes and workplaces are gone, too.

Jesus is in all those places. And believing that, I can pray.