“God” has been on my mind more intensively than usual during this past week when I had to bid an earthly farewell to my uncle, the most important and beloved person in my life from my infancy until I married and had my children. The Reverend Monsignor William J. Kane, Ph.D. (February 27, 1934-December 8, 2017). I have spent the past week immersed in the Roman Catholicism of my youth and young adulthood, and it has been a lovely though complex experience. I am always grateful for moments in my life that challenge me to re-perspectivize (yes I make up words), my beliefs about myself and others and the world we inhabit.
This morning over coffee and fresh pumpkin bread, my son and I engaged in one of our ongoing theological conversations. John plans to be a Unitarian Universalist minister, and at age twenty-one already knows far more about theology and philosophy and world religions than I do. We talked about different perspectives on sin, the fact that Pope Francis is considering changing wording to the Lord’s Prayer, the stunning number and variety of people who came to celebrate my uncle’s life at the wake and vigil mass and funeral. And we talked, as we often do, about “God.”
Like many deep thinking people, I have spent much of my life reflecting upon my spirituality and how I live it. These have evolved through the decades in sometimes gentle, other times cataclysmic ways. This morning, I told my son that I experienced a true Kuhnian paradigm shift (though a spiritual one rather than a scientific one) around twenty years ago when I glanced at the cover of the Unitarian Universalist magazine, UU World, that sat atop of the pile of mail on our kitchen table. On the cover was an article “teaser” that read: “Perhaps God Is A Verb.”
While my ideas about “God” have always been far from literal, it had never consciously occurred to me that “God” was not a noun of some sort. In the moments following those–to me at least–revolutionary words, everything changed. I felt an onrushing of truth that sustains my faith and spirituality to this day. It is a different truth from what my keenly intelligent and deeply spiritual uncle experienced and the truths believed by faithful followers of Roman Catholicism. To me, though, it is not an argumentative or oppositional truth, simply a larger one. A different paradigm that may guide our investigation of truth, without rules.
As I told the story, my son asked, “Do you know the poem god is no noun by Glen Thomas Rideout?” I didn’t. He read it aloud to me, and my tears flowed. For its beauty and truth, and for its validation of my crazy-quilt spiritual beliefs. My quilt wraps me in warm comfort as I grieve, brings me joy in the connections of its colors and patterns, and keeps me open to every possibility for connection with my fellow creatures and the natural world we live in. I share the poem here along with a link to a recording of the poet reading it.
god is no noun.
and certainly not an adjective.
god is at least a verb,
and even that shrinks her.
god is not so much a woman
as she resides in the improbable
hope of brown mothers.
god is not so much a man
as he is at work in the memory
of my grandfather’s laugh.
god is not trans.
god swims in the tears
of the one who sees
her real self,
at long last,
in the bathroom mirror.
god is not black; neither is he white.
god is wading in the contradiction of songs from slave shacks.
and I have seen god in the alabaster smiles
of children at play.
we’re getting michelangelo all wrong.
god is not the bearded one surrounded by angels,
floating over the sistine.
he is not adam with his muscled back pressing the earth.
god is the closing inch of space
between their reaching fingers.
don’t believe for a moment that god is catholic.
for god’s sake, he isn’t even human.
have you heard the wood thrush
when the sun glistens the huron?
can you see the flowers,
how they speak to bees without a word?
still, god is no spring blossom, no wood thrush.
god is neither the sun nor the bee.
god is what you see in the blossom.
god is when you hear the river
and suddenly discover how
much of it is part of you.
to be clear,
god is not you.
god is somewhere in the 14 billion years
which have come to mean that you are.
god is, after all, at least a verb.
she is neither pharaoh’s rod nor moses’ staff.
we must be the ones to cease our slavery.
she is not interested in blame, neither does she offer praise. truth, gratitude are ours to breathe.
she will not have your answers.
she is too large for answers.
she dances too wildly to be fastened to them,
and answers are nouns anyway.
god is at least a verb,
twirling in the radiant reds of spring
singing in the rare silences between rapid opinions,
attending the tears of dark-skinned deaths, learning in tiny, alabaster smiles.
god is waiting in the space between fingers
that might connect.
he is waiting for us
to stop naming her.
she is waiting for us to
see all of him.
god is waiting
to be un-shrunk
–Glen Thomas Rideout
May Rideout’s poetic reflection inspire you to look at yourself and the world afresh in these dark days leading to the new light that comes with winter celebrations including Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule and Winter Solstice. Blessings.