Every window on the east side of our parsonage offers a view of the church steeple. Standing tall, rising to meet the heavens, it intends to remind me God is in heaven, and I am on earth. This understanding that God is “up there” creates a gap between where I stand and where God sits, a space that must be overcome with an exit strategy. While this may encourage someone to secure a ticket for the day when the ship is ready to take them away, it does very little in offering a compelling vision for living with a God who is here, present in the ordinary, living among us. Diana Butler Bass’ book Grounded is a pilgrimage to find God in the world. She discovers escape routes and elevators ready to transcend the universe are not necessary to reach where God is, she finds that God has been here the whole time.
Bass divides the dwelling of the divine into two distinct categories.
The first section looks at natural habitat.
Bass writes about dirt, water and sky. We are quickly reminded that the whole Hebrew Bible is about a people, their God and their land. The story ebbs and flows as a nomadic people receive a gift of land, lose their land, return to their land, and on and on. Throughout Scripture, Bass reminds us, that humans are disconnected from the land by sin or connected to it through acts of faith and justice.
In Water, Bass explains that Jesus uses water as spiritual metaphor: “liberation, yearning for salvation, hospitality, healing and as a source of life.” The prophet Amos equates God’s justice to a river, calling the rich to act on behalf of the poor. Water is at the recreation of the world through Jesus. Scripture begins and ends with water. There is water at creation, and in Revelation 22:17 the water of life is for all who are thirsty.
The chapter on Sky highlights the transcendence and imminence of the sky. Where the sky and earth meet is both a visible and invisible place on the horizon. “The sky touches the earth, yet its outer edges are infinitely far from us. It is where we alway are, what we always breathe, yet at the same time it is a place we can never go without oxygen and special suits and flying machines.” The sky is both imminent and transcendent. Here and just beyond our reach. God is present in our natural habitat.
The second section looks at human geography.
Throughout this section Bass writes about roots, home, neighborhood and commons. There has been a rise in interest about ancestry. We are curious about where we come from and how it informs who we are. Until recently, most people have always lived where their ancestors lived, but we are moving beyond that. People are out of place, making homes in new places.
Home is about relationships more than it is about physical location, and “households nurture habit, they can be schools of intentional spiritual practice.” Both the front door and the table are sacred, “the physical places at home where we form the spiritual habits of hospitality and gratitude.”
In Neighborhood Bass reminds us of the Golden Rule, which is at the root of most faith traditions. Jesus calls us to love God and love our neighbor. She explains that, “neighborhoods are ecosystems of relationships between people, a shared experience of the natural world we inhabit, and the ways we care for each other and the land.” In this chapter she discusses fear and security, and asks how we might turn the enemy into a guest. (I'll blog on this topic soon!)
While we have spent time seeking refuge in church buildings, we are reminded in Commons that the Holy Spirit is out on the streets. “The commons is the geography of hospitality, belonging to none, welcoming all.” A common is a shared space. Bass writes that it is our human tendency to divide humankind into the blessed and the blasphemous, “versus the sacred possibility that everyone is related in and through creation and God.” Commons is about the oneness of humankind, finding a way to come together on a “journey toward a world commons of hospitality, justice and peace.”
This book invites us to discover a deeper faith, to experience the mystery of God in our world, in every moment. “It [awe] is a deep awareness that we are creators, creators who work with the Creator, in an ongoing project of crafting a world. If we do not like the world or are afraid of it, we have had a hand in that. And if we make a mess, we can clean it up and do better. We are what we make.” There is a spiritual revolution taking place, a search to find God in the world, and it is an invitation to new birth!
You can hear it as the earth groans for salvation, as poets and philosophers tell its stories, as scientists search the soil and the cosmos for life, as the oppressed, poor and marginalized push for dignity and economic justice. It is time for the church to wake up. There is nothing worse than sleeping through a revolution.
This book will change the way you see the world.