How big is your God?

So, Lent has begun and we are getting used to living alongside the two art installations which we are hosting this year – Angela Wright’s ‘Forty Days’ and Edmund de Waal’s ‘Another Day 2014’. In different ways they each deal with the concept of time – at least in their titles. As we sang ‘Forty days and forty nights’ at the beginning of the Choral Eucharist (as in so many other churches and cathedrals today I suspect) the notion of Lent extending before us as a period of time to be spent in getting deeper into God, was very apparent to me.

One of the challenges of art such as we have in the Cathedral is that it requires interpretation. So it has been interesting listening to what some people have been saying. Two comments made by children are really insightful, in different ways.

One of the choristers was looking at ‘Forty Days’ before he began the rehearsal the other evening. ‘What is it?’ he asked me. ‘What do you think it is?’ I said in response. ‘A river’ he said without any hesitation as he walked off. There is certainly something of the river in it as you look, something of the waterfall, cascading down the screen.

'But what is it?'

‘But what is it?’

The Education Officer reported a conversation with a child who was doing one of the Cathedral trails. She wrote this to me:

Yesterday I was working with a group of 5 and 6 year olds in the Cathedral. We entered the Quire and of course they were immediately intrigued by Angela’s installation. “What’s that?” some of them asked and before I had a chance to respond, one little girl said with utter certainty: ‘It’s God’s beard!” I responded with: ‘It’s a very big beard’, to which a little boy looked at me, as if I’d said the most obvious thing ever (which of course I had) and said ‘It’s big because God is big!’ I love my job!

It reminds me of boys in a school playground ‘My dad’s bigger than your dad’, ‘No my dad’s bigger than yours.’ How big is your God, how big is our God? Does size matter?

J B Phillips wrote a book in 1952 called ‘Your God is too small’. In it he says

The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static.

That was then, this is now, But what he says still applies and maybe even more now than then. Our concept of God is often too small, too domestic, too restricted and a child sees things differently – a big God. Part of the Lenten journey is discovering just how big God is. It is no small God who we find on the cross but the Universal King.

Blake's 'Ancient of Days' - a 'big' God

Blake’s ‘Ancient of Days’ – a ‘big’ God

The Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Dream of the Rood’ gives us a big concept. The poem concludes

The Son was mighty on that expedition,
Successful and victorious; and when
The one Almighty Ruler brought with Him
A multitude of spirits to God’s kingdom,
To bliss among the angels and the souls
Of all who dwelt already in the heavens
In glory, then Almighty God had come,
The Ruler entered into His own land.

A God big enough to embrace the cross and take all souls to his own land. Is this what the child saw when looking at that wool descending, like a river, like a beard?

On a more prosaic front, the Diocesan Synod met yesterday and debated the Article 8 business that had come to us from General Synod. The Ordination of Women to the Episcopate Measure has been referred to the dioceses for their approval. We had a good debate and good conversations before it and, as was expected, the Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour in each of the three houses. Only 12 members voted against and only 4 abstained. But the church has to be big enough to truly value those who couldn’t vote in favour. If our God is big, so must the church be, big and generous, open hearted and willing, truly willing, for all to flourish.

Size isn’t everything – but maybe in terms of our God, big is better!

Lord, expand my mind,
expand my vision,
expand my imagination,
so that there is room for you,
in my life,
in your church,
in our world.

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