Will He Get Bigger?
“Is he going to get bigger?” my guest asked me.
“I hope not,” I replied, and everyone in the car chuckled.
A couple of weeks ago we hosted guests musicians who were playing at our church on Sunday. These accomplished musicians were part of Tim Zimmerman and The Kings Brass and it was a delight to meet them. Those horns playing G.F. Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord”made me wonder why anyone is afraid of death. I think this is the sound I’ll hear entering the gates of heaven.
This particular weekend was the first time I had opened my doors to overnight guests who are not family since Grizzly came to live with us. When you have a dog that size, whose wire kennel sits two feet from the breakfast table, you have to give at least some backstory and hope your guests are not fearful of or allergic to dogs. They graciously accepted that my hospitality for the night included a donkey-sized dog in the house.
As I dropped them off at my church early on Sunday morning and drove away, I glanced up at the gray sky and the Celtic cross that tops the steeple of my 125-year-old church where our family has worshipped for the last 22 years. The Georgian style red brick sanctuary stands proudly on the corner of Hull and Felder wrapped in evergreen hollies. The old ginkgo tree between the sanctuary and the street has strewn her bright gold leaves as an offering of beauty for us on this December morning.
We’ve reared our children here and our daughter married here this past year. We’ve been so rooted in this place it is almost as familiar as our own home. Just for a moment, driving down by the side of the church toward the stoplight, I pulled over to pause and gaze at the cross and then down at the tree, to drink in the scene.
And then I thought of my guest’s question, “Is he going to get bigger?”
It echoed in my mind and I whispered, “Are You going to get bigger?” knowing as I said it the answer was returning to me.
The moment was one of fear, but it wasn’t the terror of last January or anxiety before the trial or the hyper-vigilance of walking alone; rather, it was a mixture of dread and being drawn into something majestic…a longing to approach and trepidation to tread there.
Awe is defined as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime." That was the feeling - awe.
This has been a year of God getting bigger and bigger. As the hole in me grew - or I became aware of the reality of how big it has always been - He expanded to fill it. My need has been great this year and His love greater.
I found myself praying, “What if You don’t fit anymore inside the walls of my church, in the container of my system of doctrine?” And I knew as I asked the question that He actually never has fit my image of him. Our minds nor our institutions will ever be sufficient houses for God.
As Stephen preached to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:47-49 quoting the prophet Isaiah:
But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?
We’ve overused the phrase “spiritual journey” so much we’ve detached the metaphor from its useful embodied meaning. We act like it’s a nebulous thing without physical consequences. This belies the very God we worship for He was Incarnate.
Spiritual journeys take place in physical lives.
Accepting the reality that life with God is an ongoing journey requires thinking about the meaning of a journey. It’s not a quick trip to the beach. Journeys change us. Travel is a means of education. On a trip to Turkey, I ate sheep’s cheese, olives and apricots for breakfast, not Alabama’s Conecuh sausage, scrambled eggs and biscuits. Journeys bring new discoveries and new experiences and not all of them good and pleasant. In Yosemite, our trailer overturned, my husband’s motorcycle was damaged, and his long-time dream of riding it through the Rockies has yet to be realized. Some journeys raise questions or cause us to have to change and reroute ourselves.
Oliver Wendall Holmes said, “A mind stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” This year has been one of letting my life change. Grizzly was given to me to make sure I didn’t let January 6th crystalize instead of becoming the catalyst it needs to be. He’s put on at least ten more pounds since I got him and is not yet two years old. My son recently told me I needed to get an even-larger kennel because his ears are poking through the top. Do they even make a larger one? I hope he doesn’t get any bigger, but even if he does, there will be a ‘full grown’ size and weight eventually. This is where the metaphor breaks down.
As long as I journey into God, He will keep growing. More majestic, more powerful, more mysterious, more beautiful, more loving, more incomprehensible…beyond human understanding and beyond houses made with hands.
St. Augustine said, “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.” Richard Rohr put it this way, “We can only come to know God as we let go of our ideas about God, and what is not God, is slowly stripped away.”
“Letting go” and “stripped away” are not comfort zones. That part of the journey is going to feel like loss; and if I’m not mindful, I’m going to resist that feeling and tighten my grip on my own image of God and my old false self. I’m going to want to contain Him and he’s never going to fit.
The gingko tree stands here beneath the cross having let go of its leaves. They have been stripped away and in the process given us this breathtaking beauty.