Spread So Thin
Excerpt from A Beautiful Bricolage
What do physicality, location, and dislocation have to do with our understanding of God? Is God unchanged by our changing circumstances? Or do the name of God and our conceptions of who God is relate directly to the historical situation of the people of God? Can we take seriously the gamble made by the prophets and psalmists that the people's current situation places the name of God in a state of wager? The burgeoning discipline of theopoetics attempts to speak of God at the nexus of this wager, all the while affirming embodiment, doubt, belief, and prayer. In the following excerpt from my recently published book, A Beautiful Bricolage: Theopoetics as God-Talk for our Time, I explore how our rapid movement through life begins to undercut and deconstruct what has previously been said and thought about God. Such deconstruction is perhaps necessary, I attempt to illustrate, if we are to speak afresh of God in creative and relevant ways amidst a rapidly changing world.
I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.
Ghosts—mine and yours—sleep in long-ago vacated hotel rooms, dorm rooms, bedrooms, and cribs. In each of those (death)beds remains a ghost when I rise to live. And at night I reunite with that ghostly vapor of a prior self and it soothes me back to sleep. But what of those times I do not re-turn in the midst of my day, and my movement leads me on to an else-where, where I find a different bed? What of the vapors to which I never return? Are they lost? Do they search for me, or I for them? How many may I leave before none is left, and I am but a hollow shell? For you and I are always on the move: crawling, walking, running, riding, trotting, galloping, rolling, driving, flying, and rocketing out into space. With every new move a little less vapor is left, and I fear that leaving is happening at ever increasing speeds. For when I would crawl, I was slow though able to re-turn to my ghost, but now nothing is fast enough. The wheels of the cart, train, and car never revolve quite fast enough; even the propeller and the jet do not quench my thirst for speed. Left behind are the wisps of a ghost I no longer know, and I am never going back.
Mine and yours—we press on and telecommute, spreading ourselves wire thin. But wires were too cumbersome and slow, so we dis-connected and sent messages through the air, through the lingering vapors of our previous selves, to satellites in the sky. Messaging alone was not enough, we needed more: more mobility, more speed, more distances covered and locations slept in. So we made pocket computers that accomplish all of our tasks while resting in multiple locations all at once. Now we hurtle down the information highway even when we are defecating. We are slow and fast, present and absent, everywhere and nowhere—all at once.
Where then is stability? Where are our foundations? Where are our unchanging concepts? Where now are our platonic forms amidst this motion? Nowhere, that is where! As we tear ahead at incredible rates, we are fractured by the speed of life; our souls seep out of the crumbling forms and drip like tears all along the way. Our glory, our weighty kavod, is spread out like heavy oil drops on a highway. Snapchats, Instagrams, Tweets, and status updates stream live up into the information cloud where they create our ideal timelines. We create our own ideal forms with Photoshop and store them in the bits and bytes of the cloud. We are oily tears spread along the highways of life becoming evaporating droplets; we are everywhere and nowhere—all at once!
Spread so thin, we are barely able to think. But if we did, we might wonder, Will the cloud turn into a thunderhead? Is there a way through this thin spot? Is there a way to let our ghosts re-gather and catch up? Is there a place to be, where our ghostly souls will not be spread so thin, a place in which we can dwell? To which one might hear the response, Perhaps. Perhaps there is a way to let our ghosts catch up and our souls condense, a way for the cloud to offer a warm spring rain rather than a destructive storm, a more human, walking-way of being-in-the-world. But only if—perhaps.