Who can really imagine God? For centuries, theologians have sought to conceptualize God’s existence. Most of us in the Christian faith have grown up believing God is “everywhere.” But it’s a lot easier to simply think of God sitting among the clouds “up there” in Heaven. How can we understand who and what God is?
Fr. Steve Bevans, SVD, during a recent lecture at DWC, took his audience on an energetic, thoughtful tour of outside-the-box thinking by first introducing a rather mind-expanding concept: “God” is not a noun, but a verb.
Bevans —a 1967 graduate of DWC who studied theology in Rome and Cambridge University, and received his doctorate from the University Of Notre Dame—served as a missionary in the Philippines and has been a member of the faculty at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago since 1986.
He said that, far from being fixed in one place or “static,” God’s is a dynamic existence that courses through our world and throughout the universe. God is in touch with us in always and everywhere, inviting us to be part of the divine existence, the divine mission.
“Sometimes we imagine God as a person, like us but a lot older, a lot wiser, somehow ‘up there’ or ‘out there,’ and kind of directing things. I’ve moved away from understanding God in that way,” Bevans told the crowd of faculty, staff and students who gathered in the Main Chapel to hear him speak. “God is movement. God is an embrace. God is flowing through the world. The relationship of God moving through the world is more personal that we can ever imagine.”
And God asks us to join in, to be part of the divine movement that is God’s mission. To create an image, Bevans compared it to a conga line—the Latin American dance made popular in the 1940s and ‘50s where people dance and weave around a room as one person after another join in by hanging onto the waist of the person ahead of them.
“God calls men and women to partnership in God’s flow through the world,” Bevans said. “It’s fun. It’s amazing to be caught up in this dance that is God. God dances through the world and pulls us in.” This is what the church’s mission is all about.
From the beginning of time, God has been there through the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, God gave a human face to the Holy Spirit in the form of Jesus, who continued the work of the Spirit in a visible, audible and concrete way. Like the first disciples, we are called to spread the good news proclaimed by Jesus in the way we lead our lives and interact with other people. In this way, and as was stated in Vatican II, the church is “missionary by its very nature.” We are most the church when we are participating in God’s work of healing and reconciling. We do this when we are spreading joy and hope and inclusion in our world, Bevans said.
This is self-less involvement. Unlike Frank Sinatra’s famous song, “My Way,” this is not “all about me.” When we freely give of ourselves, as God has given of Godself, we are taking part in the dynamic existence of God, taking part in this dance. And we can do it on God’s time.
“Sometimes priests, Sisters and lay people work and work and work until they can’t work anymore,” Bevans said, “This is God’s work. Slow down. Let God work through you. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”