Friday, January 2, 2009

God In Relationship: The Shack Part I

I'm reading a couple of fascinating books right now, one of which is The Shack. I originally bought this book as a Christmas gift for one of my nieces before realizing that while the reading level is about right, the content might be a bit strong. So, I picked it up and have been reading it myself. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a mainstream Christian novel. Okay, I'll admit it-- I don't think I've ever enjoyed one of these. They always seem trite, cliche, and I have major problems with their theology. And, I often feel like the spiritual quest books starring male characters are so masculine in nature (individualistic, not acknowledging the existence of women, characterizing God and Jesus as frat Buddies or something) that I feel totally pushed out of the picture. But, I am happy to report that I love this mainstream Christian book about a man on a spiritual quest. It is beautiful, has changed the way I think about God in wonderful and unexpected ways, and is extremely poignant. I'm still in the process of reading the book, so today I'll just limit this entry to one small aspect of the book for now.

The basic premise of the book is that a man's daughter has been kidnapped and brutally murdered in a shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. He gets a note from "Papa" a few years later (a family nickname for God) to meet back at the shack, the epicenter of his pain and suffering, for a weekend. And, sure enough, God is waiting at the shack. Namely, Elousia or Papa, a black woman who is a mean cook (the father), Jesus, a thirty-ish Jewish man, and Sarayu, a petite Asian woman with a effervescent glow (the holy spirit). The whole weekend, Mack interacts with each of the three members of the trinity while also watching them relating to one another. So here is the major revelation I've had about the nature of God: God is not an individual, but a network of relationships. God is in relationship with Godself-- which explains why we need relationships and community in order to fully experience God.

As Papa says in one section of the book, "All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within Me, within God myself. Love is not the limitation; love is the flying. I am love." (101) I've always felt that community and family are the central ways that I experience God. While many individuals, men in particular, seem to experience God by themselves, when separated from family and community, this has never been the case for me. Quiet moments alone are poignant and beautiful, but only in order to make sense of the way that I feel God has been revealed to me through relationships. There is no single experience that has shaped my relationship with God more powerfully than becoming a mother, and now I am starting to understand why-- because God is, in her essence, in a family/ community.

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