Denver hosts a parade of light-filled floats the first weekend of December to kick off our Christmas season. It’s a rather time-honored tradition and crowds are packed onto the curbs of the parade route every year. A few years back, I took my then three-year-old son to his first Parade of Lights. We stood opposite the historic clock-tower with it’s red-light lined peaks and every window glowing. His eyes and mouth were fixed in a look of perpetual astonishment; but when Santa came around the corner, with the dancing gifts and snowflakes, the animated penguins, and his genuine spirit of joy, every person jammed onto that curbside came alive. Regardless of age, life-journey, class, race, religion, social group, for a few moments everybody believed in something bigger, something beautiful. Everybody could foresee a time of peace, of togetherness, of mystery and magic. And I wept. Not because of Santa or Christmas or my baby boy’s sweet reaction—but because of the overwhelming presence of heaven. The kingdom was there, quiet and hidden, but seeping into every pore and sound and scent on that street.
I think I also cried because it was not too long ago that this kind of experience would never have made it onto my radar as a sacred encounter. My spiritual categories were so entrenched that I lost sight of what it meant to be enchanted. I might have even “prayed for” those lonely, hurting people who were confusing GOD with the experience of Christmas. Because, of course, I knew what they were really looking for. Ouch.
It’s hard to not wonder how many times I still miss GOD-Who-Is-Bigger or settle for GOD-Who-Makes-Me-Feel-Okay or the safe and expected GOD-Who-Fits-Inside-the-Christian-Culture-Box. You know, the one who grows big churches with “hip” worship. One thing I’ve learned is that the GOD-Who-Is-Bigger isn’t really in the business of making me feel better or reconciling the situations of my life, but often meets me in ways that are subtle, disturbing, and gently lifts my chin from gazing at myself and my ideas of what it means to be “spiritual” to a vision of all that could be out there. There’s an invitation by the GOD-Who-Is-Bigger to genuine self-discovery and Divine-discovery and world-discovery and love-discovery that simply can’t happen when we play it safe or “culturally relevant.” In other words, it’s an invitation into Epiphanies.
I certainly came from a Christian culture that said GOD is big enough to heal my wounds (both literal and metaphorical), to come through when everything else is failing, to “defeat my enemies” (whomever and however I interpreted that), to legislate morality (as defined by Christian culture, not necessarily Scripture), or to act in the blatantly-Christian supernatural. But this GOD was still only big enough to fit into my world—instead of inviting me to get lost inside of GOD’s world; and certainly, once I knew The Truth, there was no need for free-thinking openness or looking about the world with curious longing. This was never more evident than in all of my favorite worship songs and defined worship experiences. It was never more evident than in the lack of profound creative revelation and thematic grandeur. And yet, how cool did I think I was with my anti-tradition, pop-Christian music and my normalizing appreciation for Pink Floyd!!
Perhaps a large part of our spiritual crisis in America is due to the smallness of the GOD we profess and reflect in the day to day of our lives, to our lack of curiosity and to our missed Epiphanies. That’s a pretty big accusation. I get it. I’m not asking you to agree with me, I’m simply asking you to think about it.
Here’s what I learned from a bunch of wise guys: I’m learning to let go of my smug insight into what GOD does and doesn’t look like even as I stroll blindly past the manger bearing the Incarnate. I’m learning to confront myself: How open am I, really, to encountering the GOD-Who-Is-Bigger, even if that GOD doesn’t fit into my cultural or pre-defined categories? And am I willing to worship there?
May the GOD of Surprises, the Deep Well of Mystery, the Divine Spark enlarge your world and your experiences this week. May this GOD illuminate you with Epiphany. May we all mirror that light to those we serve. Through Christ Jesus.
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