God moment

In Bill Moyers’ PBS series on Genesis, Dr. Renita Weems gives her definition of a miracle.  I don’t have her exact words, but she says that a miracle is receiving something you needed just when you needed it.  It may have another, more scientific explanation.  But to you, the miracle is God intervening in your life at a certain point in time, in such a way as to briefly erase the line between heaven and earth.  The modern parlance for miracle seems to be the term “God moment”:  I hear people using this term often to describe a moment when they were fulfilled, or made aware of God’s presence, or both.

Well, if there ever was a miracle, or a God moment, I’m watching it right now in a tiny window on my computer screen.  It’s been hard to sleep and work ever since the rescue of the Chilean miners began last night.

I realized this morning, after a few brief hours of sleep, how many “moments” I’ve seen unfold right before my eyes on live TV.  Some of these were miraculous, others disastrous.  In fact, just about my entire time in ministry has been punctuated by these huge moments that everyone gets to watch.  Here are a few items from my list:

  • September 11
  • The invasion of Iraq in 2003
  • Recent large-scale natural disasters (tsunami, Katrina, earthquake in Haiti, floods in Pakistan)  — even if TV crews weren’t there at the precise moment of disaster, they converged on the scene in record time.
  • And of course, the mine rescue.  I just can’t get over how calm the miners are as they wait those last few seconds in the capsule.  They wait with the patience of Job until they are unharnessed and able to kiss their loved ones.

Are all of these God moments?  In a way, yes.  In seminary we used to talk about “liminal moments”:  experiences that blur the boundaries between God and people, eternal and temporal, holy and ordinary.  A liminal moment is when something extraordinary is happening, and you sense the power of God in an overwhelming way.  You can have a liminal moment in a time of great rejoicing, or of deep suffering.

I think I need to pay more attention to these moments.  As long as we have instant access to photos and video from almost anywhere in the world, we’ll be able to watch as people experience life-changing moments.   And we’ll most likely feel intense emotion, even though we are far from the action.  (I wonder if TV also increases our feelings of empathy and the inevitable feelings of helplessness that go along with it.)  We have a totally new way of experiencing the presence of God, and I’m not totally sure what that means yet.  Through technology we are drawn in with others in a way that was impossible during the time of Abraham, David, Jesus, Paul, Constantine, or Luther (or Calvin!)  Would the founders of our faith know what to do with all this information?

Anyway, I’m going to quit writing so I can watch more miners emerge from the pit.  I’m anxious to see how this God moment develops, both in the lives of the people in Chile and in all those who are drawn in by TV and prayer.

Postscript:  here’s a link to a great photo page on CNN (scroll down until you see a photo of the back of a man wearing a beige T-shirt.)  If I’m translating it right, the back of the miner’s shirt reads:

“For the depths of the earth are in his hands, and the heights of the mountains are his.”  In Him is the honor and the glory.

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