A friend and I have this kind of running joke with our pastor…it stems from a class where we were reading the book Claiming Theology from the Pulpit and learning to put labels on our own very distinct theological viewpoints. We were talking about pantheism, whether or not that was an accurate theology or a heresy, as it was labelled by the early church fathers, etc., etc., and so forth. My friend, who is a great lover of animals and all things “nature”, made an impassioned argument for “seeing God in the sunrise”. Our pastor, of course, argued strongly for the other side. It was a fun theological evening (yes, I know, geek alert), and ever since then, it has been a little private (and sometimes not so private joke).
And, when I am somewhere like I am now, on Hilton Head Island, where my days consist of bike rides in the forest and walks on a beach that is, to me, the most beautiful in the world, it is pretty easy to side with the “God in the sunrise” theological stance. But the other day, as I pulled my bike up onto the bridge to the wide expanse of sand known as South Beach, and looked around at the placid ocean, and the pelicans and the dolphins playing in the surf — as I said my prayer of gratitude for the beauty of the world and the nature around me — it dawned clear for me that, well, you have to have the vision to see God in the beauty of nature, but that isn’t enough. You also have to live with the God in the people around you, the community of your life, to have a truly grounded faith.
I think that that was the crux of the “argument” between my friend and our pastor. Both were simultaneously right and wrong, because it is only the total view that comes anywhere close to taking in all that God has to offer us in this crazy existence: the beauty of nature, the magnificence of the sky, the wonder of a rabbit that wears coloring that blends perfectly into the brush so that it cannot be seen by an approaching dog, the amazing grace of a pelican fishing in the ocean or of a school of dolphins making their way back to the bay where they rest and feed during the heat of the day — all that, mixed with the amazingness of a community of people, living, working and praying together, striving to live a Gospel-driven life, reaching for acceptance and at the same time offering the hand of hospitality and the gift of inclusiveness to all that want to join the work. It takes music, and word, and faith and sunsets and dolphins and dogs and babies and old people and, well, everything that God has offered us. In short, I may see God in the magnificence of the sunrise, but I would not be able to do that without a community with which I worship and grow in faith.
So, yes, I do see God in the sunrise, and the dolphin and my dog Gracie, and in each and every one of you.