It is in this context that I have just read a small book by Paula D'Arcy called "Gift of the Red Bird". It is an easy read, in journal form although I think written retrospectively, perhaps relying on actual journal material in many places.
It begins with her experience of the immediate aftermath of the death of her husband and daughter in a road accident just three months before her second child was born. She chronicles her experience of God through those dark times as well as her frenzied experience as a circuit speaker, telling her story over and again, to a point of physical collapse.
She thinks she is recovering when she is struck down with an illness that was completely unresponsive to treatment. For eight months she struggles and eventually recognises that her illness is not a physical thing, but an inner spiritual thing, and when she begins to put these things right, her recovery becomes evident.
She gets back onto the speaking circuit but under much better terms and after a time plans a wilderness retreat - that involves three days of fasting as well as solitude. She spent a great deal of time preparing with others for this experience and the plan was that she should keep a journal of this quest. Towards the end she writes:
"In reading through these pages I have noticed many things: the length of the grief process; the way God must continue to be followed and pursued; and the fact that yesterday's understandings of the Divine are already old. It is only the immediate day and moment right before me that matter."
What struck me as I read her experience is something I think we all find and experience quite naturally: that God is in all things that surround us, and that some of our most profound experiences of God occur in natural settings. There are hints of this experience in our sacred texts - the Psalms and the writings of Paul in their various ways affirm this idea that God is not separated from the creation, but is in a sense incarnated in it.
Paula D'Arcy's experience is not unique, nor is it uniquely Christian. It could be said to be common to the human experience that we gain a sense of acquaintance with the Divine or God or whatever you may choose to call this sense of "the Other" when we place ourselves in our natural environment and pay attention.
The question that then arises for me as I make this observation is: How is it that so many Christians live by a world view in which God is out there, to whom we pray, seeking a visitation from "heaven" into our earthly experience in order to intervene and make things right? I know that there are also hints of this dualism in the sacred texts, but I find that view much harder to fit into a modern world view of a cosmos that is driven by a whole set of laws of nature in which God is already present.
What do you think?