The Tent of God

Downtown Dewey Square is crammed with tents and tarps of Occupy Boston protesters, but organizers made sure from the start of this weeks-old encampment that there was room for the holy.

No shoes are allowed in the “Sacred Space” tent here, but you can bring just about any faith or spiritual tradition.

A day’s schedule finds people balancing their chakras, a “compassion meditation” and a discussion of a biblical passage in Luke. Inside, a Buddha statue sits near a picture of Jesus, while a hand-lettered sign in the corner points toward Mecca.

“Religion claims its place in Occupy Wall Street”
-by Jay Lindsay
found at news.yahoo.com

We tend to think of religious and secular activities as isolated from one another. Secular people rally around “separation of church and state” (though that’s not exactly what the Constitution says) while at least some Christians say that the United States was founded as a Christian nation (which isn’t really true, either). However, there is a distinct impression of polarity between what some might think of as “faith vs. facts”. Reality isn’t quite so clear cut, though.

For instance, a number of weeks ago, I came across an article at Network World called Science and religion can and do mix, mostly. The takeaway blurb says:

Rice study shows only 15% of scientists at major US research universities see religion and science as always in conflict.

That’s not the impression you get from the news media, at least when religion and science come up in the same story. There’s a tendency to believe that people of faith and people of science are mortal enemies. One avenue of evidence many atheists use against religious people is that the various sciences “prove” or at least support, an origin of the universe and of the earth that does not match up with how Genesis describes those events in the Bible. Science is also used in some manner or fashion, to support natural rather than supernatural processes for the creation and development of life, and of course, there’s no direct, scientific observation that supports the existence of God.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism said that science was not an adequate tool for determining the existence of God, since science, as a method of examination, can only investigate those things that are available for examination within the scope of our universe. God is “extra-universal”, so to speak, and escapes all methods of man trying to capture God and put Him under the microscope.

That probably sounds like a convenient excuse to some, but I’m not going to present a detailed defense for God’s existence against the various scientific disciples. They operate on completely different playing fields. To be fair to the Biblical rendition of the Creation event in Genesis though, I don’t believe it was written as a “cookbook” on how God created the universe, nor do I believe it can be understood outside of a deeply mystic frame of reference. I’m not the only one with this viewpoint. For instance, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach on his blog Yinon, recently replied to a commenter:

I don’t believe the intention of Genesis is meant to be a scientific account, but rather a theological one. As such, I am not necessarily a literal 6 days person. IMHO, like you, I don’t think the Biblical text and Science are in conflict with each other.

There’s no real reason to say that the “big bang” theory, which is accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community as the most likely explanation for the origin of the universe, should be at odds with the acceptance of the Genesis story in the Bible. And while the scientific understanding of the big bang event has evolved over time, it still has some uncertainty attached to it as reported by Space.com:

“The problem is, there’s no reason whatsoever to believe general relativity in that regime,” said Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at Caltech. “It’s going to be wrong, because it doesn’t take into account quantum mechanics. And quantum mechanics is certainly going to be important once you get to that place in the history of the universe.”

So the very beginning of the universe remains pretty murky. Scientists think they can pick the story up at about 10 to the minus 36 seconds — one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second — after the Big Bang.

So in the time that existed just prior to “one trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second” before the big bang, could the hand of God have been at work? I believe so, but then, that’s an opinion based on faith. To say that God absolutely could not have been involved requires as much faith, if only because there’s no way to be so definite on that point without invoking faith, either in God or in God not existing.

So we find God in odd places, places we wouldn’t expect to find Him, such as at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Boston. Of course:

The tent is one way protesters here and in other cities have taken pains to include a spiritual component in their occupations. Still, Occupy Wall Street is not a religious movement, and signs of spiritually aren’t evident at all protest sites.

So we discover God, or our faith in Him at least, is involved in human affairs because God is involved in us. If the world was not created for the sake of humanity, would the universe exist? That’s like the old “if a tree fell in the forest and there was no one to hear it, would it make a sound” question, and as there are no observers at either event (except God), we have no way of knowing for sure.

To fly in the face of science, God is not a God of facts, but a God of experiencing. We know He is real because we experience Him in ways that defy logic, science, and traditional observation. We believe He has inserted Himself into the lives of human beings and into the course of history, but it still requires faith to see His face shining and His hands working at places like Eden, Sinai, and Jerusalem. Although God is omnipresent, He is most likely found in the places where we carry Him. His being can and has and does manifest anywhere, but He is most often seen, and heard and felt where the people of God are. We are His emissaries to those who have no other method of experiencing Him. The people of God allow the invisible God to be seen by the righteous and the unrighteous alike.

Right now, in downtown Boston, He is sitting in a small tent along with a statue of Buddha, a picture of Jesus, and a hand-lettered sign pointing to Mecca. He was carried there along with those objects and He would be there, even if those other objects didn’t exist. For the method of transport for God into that small tent in Boston, and in all the other places we find God, wasn’t by hands, but by the container of faith He has helped us build within ourselves. And we people of faith, though hardly 99% of the population, are not always who you would expect us to be or where you would expect to find us.

Addendum October 30, 2011: Christians are supporting the “Occupy London” protests. Read about it at guardian.co.uk.

3 thoughts on “The Tent of God”

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