I read something this week that made me think. It was speaking about relationship and that power and energy exists in the relationship rather than in particular elements or in people. There was the example of an atom. The energy of an atom exists within the relationships of particles within the atom – the electrons, protons and neutrons. When a particle bombards another atom, it causes that atom to split into two new atoms and release huge amounts of energy, which exists within the relationship of the nuclear particles.
The point of what I read was to comment on how relationships are at the heart of the physical universe. Another article described quantum entanglement, which I found profound and strange. It essentially says that if you have two particles that are in relationship and then separate them, the relationship continues on wherever they are in the universe. The theory goes that if you take one of these particles to the other side of the universe and then do something to the particle you are holding, there will be an instantaneous, equivalent change in the other particle light years away. If, for example, you reverse the spin of one particle, the spin of the other will change instantaneously. This upset Albert Einstein because it seems to mess with his theories of relativity and that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. An instantaneous change of a particle in response to a change in another particle with which it is in relationship at a vast distance, defies the speed of light. Einstein called it ‘spooky action at a distance’ (a wonderfully scientific phrase!). The whole point of this is about relationship and how it is central to the universe, whether at a particle/atomic level or in the gravitational pull between planets and stars in the universe. Relationships are the essence of how cells operate and the systems of the human (animal and plant) body. The systems of nature are interrelated and influenced by those relationships. Relationship is where the energy, life and love exist within the physical/emotional world. Life is experienced in relationship – with other people and with non-human creation.
As we engage in our daily walk with the dogs, we encounter and are in a relationship with the world around us. We interact with the world through contemplation, breathing, temperature, the dog’s movements, people we encounter, animals/trees/creek we stop to look at and so on. Life and experience is in the relating and my being exists in relationship. I understand myself more truly and fully only in relationship – especially relationships that are honest and engage me, push me and critique me.
The book I was reading actually speaks about God – as relationship, a community held and grounded in love. It speaks of God in the traditional Trinitarian formula of ‘Father, Son/Christ and Spirit’ (or Creator, Christ and Spirit…) as three entities held in relationship and the essence of that relationship is love. This is a loving community and love exists in the relationship between them, holding them together. This relationship is the essence of creation and life. In the Jewish story in Genesis (1:26-7), God says, ‘Let us create humans in our image.’ The image of God is relational love, a flow of love and life from ‘Father to Son to Spirit’ to us and back again. This flow of Love is in the spaces between us, a flow of love between people (and creatures), in, through and around us. Richard Rohr goes on to say how it is the stopping of this flow of Divine love that is ‘sin’ because this is existential death. It means being shut down, closed off, blocked… – much like a hose that is twisted, and the flow of water stops. Or, a river that becomes blocked and the flow ceases leading to stagnant water and death of the river.
God is relational, and it is in the relationship God with us that we have life and breath and being because this Divine relationship is the essence and energy of life and love. When we block this energy, deny it or refuse it and reject the inspiration and leading of God’s Spirit within us, we become arrogant, self-centred and dogmatic in our views and ideas. Hard as it is to comprehend, God is more concerned with relationship than correctness (whatever we mean by correctness or even truth)!
This underlines the meaning in our Gospel reading this week (Mark 4:35-41) where Jesus set out across the lake with his disciples. Jesus is tired and sleeps. Meanwhile a storm blows up over the lake and threatens the little boat. The disciples, deeply afraid, awaken Jesus begging him to help them, to save their lives. Jesus seems grumpy and annoyed (I get that – he was woken from sleep!!). He raises his arms and cries out to the wind and sea, ‘Peace! Be Still’. Of course, everything calms down and Jesus turns on the disciples asking, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’ They were awestruck and focussed on the wind and sea ‘obeying’ Jesus.
One commentator reminded me that I am too often like the disciples and cry out to God to stop things that are happening. It is common for us to yell out to God and blame God for not doing what we think ought to happen, for not exercising powerful control over everything – as in this scene.
Perhaps Jesus’ reluctance in this story is fully in tune with his reluctance to be a powerful wonder-worker over everything else. Jesus, it seems really is like God!! God doesn’t appear to intervene to change things like we might in our video games or make-believe games that give us omnipotent power and control. Something in us would like God to do this – as long as it is in ways we expect and approve of!! But God doesn’t because that isn’t the true nature of God.
In this simple story it seems that it may have been enough for the disciples to comprehend that Jesus was in the boat with them! Jesus sat with them in the midst of the storm. He was in relationship with them and in that relationship is the real power and essence of what it means to be alive. The truth that the disciples will eventually understand is that the Spirit of Jesus, is with them in the midst of life’s storms and struggles.
As a minister, a male minister, I have had to learn that I cannot change people’s life situations; I can’t make everything better with a lovely prayer or Bible reading or words of faith or hope. Sometimes all I can do is get into the hole that people find themselves in and sit there with them to share the mess and chaos and pain. Sometimes, often, this is what we want and need from others. We don’t want to be fixed, we want relationship!
God is relationship and in this relationship of love, I discover life and freedom and hope and peace. I also discover that it is relationship with others that is more significant than being right. I can live with the diversity of ideas, experiences, beliefs, hopes when I am committed to relationship more than correctness or uniformity. God is in the relationship between me and others, the love that flows between us. ‘God is love and those who live in love live in God and know God because God is love.’ (1 John 4:7-8).