For the past several weeks, a small group of us have been gathering on Sunday mornings for a different kind of class.
No one is teaching on passages of scripture, or expounding theological arguments. There are no PowerPoint presentations, or visiting speakers. We are gathering instead to reflect and share on our experience of two simple things: reading about God, and walking our neighborhoods.
Our study is shaped by a book called Backyard Pilgrim, a short volume by Matt Canlis that takes its inspiration from Jesus’ ministry: a ministry that happened in a small geographic area, a series of villages where everyone knew everyone else, by an itinerant preacher who moved at about three miles per hour.
In a society that moves so much faster, that shudders at the thought of being so deeply known (exposed? without privacy??), this is a radical way of living.
And this past week, our reflection prompt gave me another idea to sit with, about where to find God in the midst of this strange societal moment we find ourselves in.
We are now in the fourth of six weeks of the pilgrimage journey, a journey that takes us through the arc of scripture as we walk through our neighborhood, and this past week it was all about God seeking and finding lost children. “Where are you?” God asks over and over, first Abraham, then Jacob; Moses and King David. They answer, “here I am,” but it doesn’t stick. They wander again. They get lost.
And then we get to Isaiah, where those “few and feeble” responses finally break down. As Matt writes, “We can’t even say, much less do, what is necessary to be found. The time has come to reverse God’s question. Not from the place of human pride but from the place of need we can cry out to God: ‘Where are you?!'”
Isaiah is the first book that tells us not where we are, but where God is. Isaiah promises the coming of a son, a king: Immanuel, God with us. God here, beside us, in an intimate way.
And Matt challenges us to ask ourselves: “Could it be that one reason we miss God is not because he’s far off, but because he’s so close?”
These days, if I am looking in far-off places, on a big scale, in the huge events that are taking place around the world and in our country, I’ll be honest and tell you that I struggle to find God.
But up close?
Oh, up close I can do.
Up close are the leaves changing color on my street: dramatically, beautifully, showing off the contrast with their dark tree trunks and the gray sky above.
Up close are the contended sighs my dog Zoe makes when she’s snuggled into just the right position on the couch next to me.
Up close are the friends who have committed to be my quaran-team, who check in over the phone and save a regular night on their calendar for us to eat and be together.
Up close are the neighbors who stop to chat when Zoe and I are out for our morning walk, and the smell of woodsmoke in the evening from backyard fire pits.
Beauty. Fellowship. Little graces and moments of joy.
God, I find, has been here all along.
If you, like me, are finding it hard somedays to find God in the midst of the chaos and the suffering, then I suggest you try this: try looking up close.