The Cloister of the Universe
Orthodoxy has it that God is all powerful–omnipotent–and yet the story remembered and retold in the Paschal Triduum that begins this evening–Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday–speaks of a weak God, a figure who is betrayed, who serves, who suffers, and who dies. The Triduum depicts the image of a humble God.
Despite this traditional alternative image of God, which can hardly be called heterodox, many Christians today can hardly be said to believe in a humble God. The Christian God is still a deity typically associated with might, royalty, commandment, and judgment. In a word, power. Christ is a God who has blessed the clean and the wealthy and the morally pure. He sides with presidential candidates and athletic teams. His favorite country is by far the United States of America.
In contrast, Ilia Delio looks to St. Francis of Assisi as an example of a Christian who lived as one who believed in a humble God:
What would the world be like if Christians actually believed in a humble God? If following a God of poverty and humility led them to abandon their opinions, prejudices, and judgments so they could be more open to love others where they are, like God? Francis went about the world following the footprints of Christ, not so he could look like Christ, but because they were the footprints of divine humility. He discovered that God descends in love to meet us where we are and he found God in the most unexpected forms: the disfigured flesh of a leper, the complaints of a brother, the radiance of the sun, in short, the cloister of the universe. The wisdom of Francis makes us realize that God loves us in our incomplete humanity even though we are always running away trying to rid ourselves of defects, wounds and brokenness. If we could only see that God is there in the cracks of our splintered human lives we would already be healed.
When Delio writes here of being healed, she doesn’t mean the sort of healing that closes the gaps and mends the brokenness; rather, she means the peace that comes with being at home with one’s defects, wounds, and brokenness and sharing one’s home–one’s life–with a God who is defective, wounded, and broken, which in practice means embracing of humble life devoted to the love of others in their poverty and humility. If I desire to find God, I cannot look to the bold and the beautiful, the wealthy and privileged and well-ordered: I have to embrace those whose stink makes me want to retch, I have to care for those who may make me ill. God smells bad and may be bad for the health. If I go through the prayers and rituals of the Paschal Triduum, but do not love and welcome its risks, then I am no Christian, and not much of a human being. It is through giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, care to the sick, company to the lonely, shelter to the homeless, and clothing to the naked that we can find God and find the healing of which Delio writes. But it is not in our power that God resides, but our poverty and the poverty of others.