To be ‘Godsmacked’ on this blog is to be left speechless by the Almighty. I have to keep reminding myself of this, because sometimes people seem to think God is mainly there to ‘smack’ us in a much more punishing mode. Why is it that with so much around us to cause us to wonder some of God’s followers are more interested in enforcing rules and mending fences that gazing in awe at the marvels of life?
The issue of gay marriage is currently being debated in Australia. A bunch of bishops (what is the correct name for a group of bishops – a posse of prelates?) is calling on 80,000 of their church members to write to a government enquiry urging no change to the rules governing marriage. It’s an important issue and it isn’t simple and straightforward as both sides of the debate seem to suggest.
I don’t want to go into a discussion of the ethics of gay marriage (although I’m not opposed to the idea if that’s what gay people want). It’s only the tip of the iceberg. The bigger issue is the way people who are different are often experienced as some kind of threat to us. We human beings all seem to be capable of a sense of wonder in nature, and a sense of beauty in art, but when we encounter each other we are not so ready to be Godsmacked with the wonder and beauty of it all. We can try to enlist God in defending whatever boundaries of race, or gender, or body type, or fashion sense or other human characteristic we gave erected to help ourselves feel safe. If only we could just relax and enjoy the glorious tapestry that wanders through our streets and across the world!
I might be a bit strange, but I love art galleries. While I enjoy the art, I am sometimes much interested in the people viewing the art. I am a bit of a voyeur, but a voyeur of the soul and life even more than the body. What does this bloke do in life? Are they (two people on opposite sides of the room) actually a couple? What joys and sorrows have interacted to create that particular face? What is she trying to say with those clothes? What ethnicity would that person claim? These are the questions that fascinate me. I enjoy the art of people viewing the art. Sometimes the paintings get lost completely as I follow the crowd from room to room enjoying the subtle shifts in their faces and their posture as the pictures change. Sometimes our gazes touch, and a smile is exchanged, and the whole dynamic is transformed for the rest of the slow journey through the exhibition.
On the city streets I do it too, but it’s far more fleeting. Every walk down a city block is an opportunity to encounter difference, to be surprised or delighted in some way by the new. I can be just as Godsmacked by a person in the street as by a panorama from some wilderness mountaintop.
At the Welsh church there is a deep valuing of individual differences. The story of the Welsh nation is one of long resistance to the cultural steamroller of English language and customs. The treasuring of the Welsh language reflects a concern to honour difference and respect particularity, not just of Welsh culture but of every culture. We have people from many different cultural backgrounds in the congregation and outside our doors are people of even more nations and birthplaces.
As a happy little Vegemite of a 5th generation Aussie, it’s been a wonderful gift for me to be part of a community which owns a different culture, to be learning the Welsh language and listening to the Welsh story. It makes me more aware of all those other stories and more understanding of the need to respect and hear the subtle tones of other peoples experience and history. And through all this I am constantly being Godsmacked in new and exciting ways as I encounter beauty and awe in human form as well as the glories of nature.