Searching for God

Searching for God April 12, 2016

Today’s post is the second in a series on The Story of God With Morgan Freeman. I got the chance to preview this Sunday’s upcoming episode, “Who Is God?” You can watch it on the National Geographic Channel, or on the National Geographic app beginning the day after it airs on TV.

Morgan Freeman visits holy sites around the world in The Story of God.
Morgan Freeman visits holy sites around the world in The Story of God.

There’s nothing like diving right into the deep water, so here goes: “Who Is God?”

Watching Morgan Freeman jet around the world in search of answers to this question stirred up a lot of memories for me, as I’ve been to many of the places he visits. I’ve prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and stood before the statue of Akhenaten, the world’s first recorded monotheist, in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. I’ve followed the Muslim call to prayer into mosques, and traveled through the desert landscape of New Mexico, where Freeman attends a coming-of-age ceremony for a young Navajo woman.

William Blake’s image of God blessing the seventh day of creation. (Wikimedia Commons image)
William Blake’s image of God blessing the seventh day of creation. (Wikimedia Commons image)

One might think that all of these experiences would have led me to greater certainty about God, but I think the opposite has happened. I’ve come instead to have a much greater awareness of the diversity of beliefs about God in the world. I keep coming across new facets on the divine diamond.

If I were doing my own series (and let me just say this to National Geographic: I’m available), I’d have a somewhat different itinerary searching for God than does Morgan Freeman.

I’d go first to the nursery of a hospital, for that’s where I’ve seen the face of God most clearly. You know how young babies have that sheen on them for about 24 hours? I experienced it with my own two sons, but also in other newborns I’ve been privileged to see. Their faces are mesmerizing, as if they are beaming out an incredible light from somewhere beyond this realm. Maybe it’s just evolution’s way of ensuring we’ll take care of the little buggers, but I think there’s God in their faces as well.

And I’d go to the bedside of a dying person, too. Not one experiencing a hard or premature death, or one that comes after the long twilight of dementia. But I’d try to find one of those wise, aged people who’ve had a good run of it and who face death filled with gratitude for what they’ve been privileged to experience. Being in their presence confers a blessing as potent as any I’ve received from a religious leader.

Next I’d find an Iowa meadow on a dark night in mid-summer. I know of one where fireflies gather, hundreds of thousands of them, so that when you come over the crest of the hill, it’s as if the entire valley below you is filled with sparkling lights, swirling and dancing and twinkling, and all you can do is stand and be enchanted.

(Wikimedia Commons image)
(Wikimedia Commons image)

Later in the series I’d visit Bear Butte, a Native American holy site in South Dakota that I’ve climbed again and again. I’d show the birds that ride the updrafts created by the peak, and how you can see the expanse of the Black Hills in the distance, that land long considered sacred by Plains Indian tribes.

 But in planning the rest of my own video, the difficulty is that you can rarely predict which form God is going to take next. We expect to find the holy in a church, mosque, or temple, but I’ve been to many services where God didn’t seem to have gotten the memo on what time it was supposed to start. And often the divine shows up in completely unexpected places—an encounter with a stranger in a hospital waiting room, for example, or in the form of a cranky, irritating person who teaches you a lesson you need to learn.

In the story of Exodus, there’s a wonderful line in which God tells Moses that he cannot show him his face, for it would overwhelm him, and so Moses only gets a glimpse of God’s back as he passes by.

And I think something similar is true for us, too. It’s only later that we realize that we have encountered the holy—after the birth, after the death, after the life-changing conversation with a stranger.

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