Leaving the box behind to meet God – Andrew Hamilton, SJ
When developers build apartments they usually erect a smaller scale model of the apartment to attract buyers. In it the furniture is also on a smaller scale, the paintings on the walls convey spaciousness, and outside the window is a small garden.
You could easily live in this little apartment. It might crimp your style at first, but you would soon get used to tucking in your knees in bed, bowing a little as you go through doorways, pulling in your stomach as you pass others in the corridor, and bending as you eat at the table. Eventually, you might even be a little shocked when visiting other houses to find people so uninhibited in their movements. Your little house has shaped your way of life.
That is how it is in our relationship with God. We build ourselves a doll’s house, take up residence in it, and then complain that the God – whom we have confined within its dimensions – is narrow and boxed in. Actually, it is not God who is in the box but we ourselves. To meet God in the wild we need to leave it.
When we do leave we are free to amble in God’s garden, look around at a full-sized world, and find God in all its beauty and mystery. We leave behind the pebble paths and low maintenance shrubs of the miniature garden, wondering as the rising sun touches the huge gum trees in the park, lighting up the new green foliage and turning the trunk and limbs russet.
We listen to the wind sieving through the pines and the magpies marking out their territory. We look over the cranes in the city and listen to the garbage trucks as they snort their way from red light to red light in the streets; wondering at the energy, the enterprise, the stored knowledge and multitude of people, tasks and services that support a city.
Our de-box therapy might also lead us for a moment to stand alone in the peak‑hour bustle of the city centre and wonder that God should know by name and take delight in each person of the varied crowd that hurries by. To wonder, too, that God calls each of us to delight in this rich world and to help shape it so that it serves us all. And to see before our mind’s eye not just these passers-by, but also their ancestors and our successors for generations beyond measure, whom God does not number in the millions but lists each by their own name. They are not interchangeable but are family, each intimately known and precious.
When we leave our box we can also gaze at the stars on a frosty night, far from the city lights, imagining the distance that separates these lights from those unreached and the time that separates us from the beginning of creation. We can muse on the life God may have sparked in myriad other galaxies, and again wonder that we should be the objects of God’s personal interest and affection.
So we imagine how infinitesimally small we are when set in so great a space and in such endless time, like ants in a desert or a lone surfer on the night sea, and yet are each personally held in God’s love as an actor might be spotlit in a massed stadium.
Even in such a large universe God is still not boxed in, for we do not see God but God’s light reflected in our world and in all our engagements and relationships in it. God remains a mystery infinitely beyond our grasp, yet intimately present to us – even from within our own box. This is what we might recognise if we were to leave it behind, and allow ourselves to see, hear, touch, smell and taste the beauty and the bitterness of our world.
We do not see God, but from the light that shines in our world, we recognise that God is greater, more beautiful and more inscrutable than we can imagine. We may then smile that we should have imagined a God who is upset by trivialities and mistakes, and wonder at how we could have missed God’s investment in our happiness, or ignored God’s tears for the lack of respect paid to those he loves.
Then we may hear God’s invitation to leave our box – no longer needing to stoop, cringe, shrink, bow or huddle – and to attend to the world on which his light falls. And we might stagger at the enormity of the decisive choice that God has made for us: not to get out of a box but to bend to enter it and meet us.
In Jesus, God submitted himself to the dimensions of our human world to show us how we might live freely within it – not hiding in boxes, but living passionately, freely, attentive to the light that shines for us in darkness, the Son of God who broke out of a pine box to give life that overcomes death, and hope that trumps despair.