I’m Back Y’all, and I Brought a Hefty Theological Term With Me

Panentheism = ???

This past fall the book club that I am a part of here in Beijing read a collection of essays on Panentheism entitled How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere:  an Anthology of Spiritual Memoirs, compiled by Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton.  Literally meaning “everything in God” in Greek, Panentheism is a Christian response to Pantheism which argues that everything *is* God.  As a child of the Evangelical movement and a now drifted away convert to the Roman Catholic Church, I had never come in contact with the term Panentheism until reading the book I mentioned.  Nevertheless, as I look back over the last several years of my spiritual development, I can see how the idea of a transcendent Divine has profoundly influenced how I see God interacting with the world’s suffering and with my own life.  One of my earlier posts, Sunflowers and Awe, describes this perfectly.  With a Panentheistic outlook, I have discovered that God, though existing as a separate force and entity, chooses to be present within and through everything, everyone, and every place.

Let’s Take This Relationship Horizontal

It seems antithetical to traditional Christian belief for God’s relationship with creation to be so… horizontal.  For most of history, God’s interactions with humanity have been described in top-down language, rather than the side-to-side description of Panentheism, which sees God choosing to reside in, with, and under the very fabric of who we are and what the world is.  Panentheism seeks to find God in the interstitial spaces of existence, somewhere closer to us and than we are to ourselves.

Theology vs. Waves of Change

So, at this point you might be wondering what a theological term has to do with real life, and my answer to you is everything.  Over the last several months, my life has been a roller coaster of emotions and experiences, from deciding to pursue a new job, to realizing I no longer have a reason to run from home (which brings up a lot more questions about my life’s trajectory than it does answers), to meeting an amazing man who I deeply care about.  And in the midst of these changes, I have struggled to find a sense of surety or even a semi-solid footing from which to work out my next steps.  It has sometimes felt as if God decided willy-nilly to set me adrift in a sea of uncontrollable waves.  With every wave of change, questions and fears arise, which then give way to doubts, and, ultimately, to anxiety which demands control and foresight beyond mortal abilities.   And as each subsequent wave crashes over the railing, it gets harder to make it through the next set of questions.  It gets harder to fight off the fears.  It gets harder to see a clear path forward through the fray.

God Is Here

Yet through all of the swampy mess of change, the vision of Panentheism reassures me that somewhere in the hairline cracks of my heart God has taken up refuge.  In each of us, whether we realize it or not, the entirety of the divinity is residing and shining, holding us together when not even crazy glue and a dozen boxes of blue tack could do the trick.  And, at least for me, that keeps me going.  Sometimes the only hope we have for a better tomorrow is knowing that underneath all the grime and scales of our often shallow existence, God’s light keeps on shining, and the darkness cannot extinguish it.

-The featured image was taken at the abbey in Sobrado dos Monxes along the Camino del Norte, in Northern Spain.

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