I have wonderful friends, though sometimes they are mean to me. One such friend put a book in my hands last week. I love books, especially as presents, so I thought it was going to be great. My friend purchased this rather fat volume thinking it would be a nice way to go along through the church year, but…well, you’ll see why she decided to foist it on me. It’s called Seasons of Wonder: Making the Ordinary Sacred Through Projects, Prayers, Reflections, and Rituals. It is endorsed by some big names, and from what I’ve seen online it seems to be just what so many people are looking for. I thought I would fisk some of the introduction because I was born for such a time. It starts like this:
Not so long ago, I walked out barefoot into the night. Dewy blades of grass grazed my ankles, and the ground squelched a little with each step I took. A swath of stars shone overhead. Anchored to Mother Earth by the soles of my feet, I knew at once that I was, that I am, and that I will be of this vast creation. [emphasis hers]
So, if you’ve read the Bible at all, you might have come across the curious name that God gives Himself when he comes to call Moses to the impossible task of leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Later, Jesus horrifies the rulers of Israel by taking this name for Himself:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
The people who heard Jesus say this, as you can see from just two verses, understood that he was claiming to be God, and therefore they wanted to kill him for blasphemy. Trouble is, Jesus is God, so he could say that. If you go along through Seasons of Wonder, you’ll see that Bonnie Smith Whitehouse is extremely confused on this point. She is going to promise to help you recover from the “illusion that we are separate from God” and discover that “the church is the whole creation!” and that God is “enfleshed in the world.” I don’t want to burst your bubble, but none of that is true. God is not the earth and the church is not the whole world and, most importantly, you are not God. You cannot claim the words of Christ when he says:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Notwithstanding the propensity of Joel Osteen to try to get you to call on the apparently magical power of “I am,” you are not eternal. You might exist now, and you will go on forever either being consoled in the bosom of Abraham like Lazarus, or in torment like that poor rich man, but you did not preexist creation, like Christ. It’s not pharisaical to refuse to insist that God is who he is, and that Christ is God. There is no sort of amorphous “Christ-ness” (don’t worry, Richard Rohr shows up in the introduction) which you can discover in yourself and in the flowers.
Maybe Whitehouse is just trying to be clever, or even cutesy, but this is a really bad start to what is going to turn out to be a really bad book. We carry on:
I am downright creaturely. Holy ground is right here beneath these forty-something-year-old feet of mine. I closed my eyes and really noticed the atmosphere travel through my lungs’ corridors, and I allowed myself to be shocked…
That makes two of us so far, especially since not all ground is holy. The conflation of that which is holy with that which is common might arise out of the desire to dignify and protect the earth, or “Mother Earth” as Whitehouse says (funny how “Mother Earth” gets a big mention right in the first line but still no mention of Jesus getting to have the name that Whitehouse has already given to herself, oh well) but ultimately it produces a world where God is driven out of his own creation. If everything is holy then nothing is holy. The word “holy,” in the Bible anyway, indicates something or someone who is set apart from common things. You literaleigh* cannot say that everything is holy because in scripture only God is Holy. God has the power and authority to make things and people that he sets apart for himself holy. We don’t have the power to make things holy. Certainly declaring them to be so doesn’t just sort of holi-fy the whole world. If you’ve read the Bible, you might remember that God does sanctify those whom he calls to himself. He does that by the blood of the Lamb, the Christ who gives himself up, not so that we can become God, but rather so that we may into the presence of God from whom we will certainly be divided forever if we do not repent and believe the gospel. Moses, in a foretaste of that awe-full time when the judgment of God and the mercy of God would be joined on a tree, the fire of God’s wrath against sin propitiated by God himself, has to take his shoes off in the Divine Presence of YHWH because he, Moses, is not holy, and because he is receiving a revelation of who God is. So anyway:
…to take in a breath, to stand barefoot on the ground, and to breathe in this glorious universe we share—it felt like a marvel.
Skipping a paragraph about more times of “marveling” which Whitehouse calls “Wonder Moments” (hang on to that term), she writes:
I believe these little startling moments of marvel to be manifestations of the divine, and I want to help you and the people you love hunt down, discover, and savor them together. This book is aimed at reminding you and your family (and by “family” I mean the people you love—your children, your spouse, your parents, your friends, your roommates, or your family of choice) that we are part of the wondrous grand spirit of the universe.
I do love the word “manifestation.” It’s good for so many things. I believe this book is a manifestation of the spirit of the age. In just one page Whitehouse manages to hit all the right notes. The reader will over and over again be invited to take her eyes off of Jesus and the scriptures and let them wander everywhere else, looking for meaning (another word we’ll come back to) far and wide.
Unfortunately, my blogging time is up so I will have to pick this up tomorrow. Have a nice day!
* Apparently this is the way this word is spelled now, according to Twitter.
Photo by eberhard 🖐 grossgasteiger on Unsplash