Bringing God Home – Part I: Snow Leopards, Ungrateful Whiners, and the Domesticated God

Bringing God Home – Part I:

Snow Leopards, Ungrateful Whiners, and the Domesticated God

 

Of the many things that bother me about living with ecstatic religious experiences, here is the one that bothers me most: I don’t feel God’s presence most of the time. How can God feel so near and then … nothing?  I hate that.  I realize this makes me sound like an ungrateful whiner … which is precisely what I am a fair percentage of the time.  And now that I think about it, the term “ungrateful whiner” describes a good portion of the figures in the Bible and in Christian history.  So, at least I’m in, if not good company, illustrious biblical company.

 

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this desire — this admittedly idolatrous and whiny desire – to feel God’s presence all the time, to domesticate the almighty.  I’m not proud to admit this, but the truth is, I want to take God home and keep God there.  I don’t mind if God goes to your house, as long as God stays at my house too … and as long as God keeps in plain view.  Is that too much to ask?  Yes, probably so.

 

A friend who knows about this little problem of mine, recently sent me a devotional essay drawing on Peter Matthiessen’s book The Snow Leopard.  In 1973, Matthiessen, a travel writer and novelist, set out for Nepal with the naturalist George Schaller who was studying the rutting patterns of Himalayan Blue Sheep (which sounds like a great alternate career if I ever grow tired of theology!)  Matthiessen came along on the trip in the hope that he might catch a glimpse of the rare Himalayan snow leopard.  He had recently become a Buddhist and the trip, especially the search for the snow leopard, turned into a spiritual quest.

 

Along they way, they saw signs of the snow leopard, including tracks, but not the snow leopard itself.  Matthiessen wrote of the tension between his “longing” to see the animal and his growing detachment from the actual seeing. “If the snow leopard should manifest itself, then I am ready to see the snow leopard. If not, then somehow … I am not ready to perceive it … and in the not-seeing, I am content. . . . That the snow leopard is, that it is here . . . that is enough.”

 

Toward the end of the trip, Schaller tells Matthiessen, “You know something? We’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.”  Matthiessen notes that in the not-seeing, they “have been spared the desolation of success.”*

 

This is my problem.  I don’t want to be spared the desolation of success.  Please, Lord, desolate me! I deny that not seeing the snow leopard is better than seeing the snow leopard.  I want to see the snow leopard. I want to see the snow leopard over and over again.  Seeing the tracks is fine too. Yes, I definitely want to see the leopard tracks … and the leopard lair and the leopard scat and the leopard itself.

 

Yes, and I want to take the leopard home with me. I want to dress the snow leopard in cute seasonal outfits – a green jingle bell collar at Christmas and a little puffy red skirt for Valentines Day. I want the leopard to do tricks for visiting guests.  I want the snow leopard to be my dog. Come, little snow leopard.  Stay, little snow leopard. Roll over, little snow leopard.

 

Here is my problem: I want to bring God home.

 

I know that this is not happening.  I know that no matter how hard I try, God will not be domesticated. God will not do tricks. God will not dress in cute seasonal outfits. I hate that.

 

In my family, when we talk about God’s maddeningly habitual failure to stay within the bounds of our expectations and our control, we like to quote Mr. Beaver of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.   Mr. Beaver explains to the children that the great lion Aslan comes and goes as he will.  “He’ll often drop in. Only you musn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.**

 

All this is true. Aslan is not tame; the snow leopard is not tame; God is not tame. I can’t drag God home and dress him in any kind of outfit at all, much less a sparkly or jingly one. I can’t put God on a leash. I can’t teach God tricks. I can’t domesticate God. That is a fact.  . . .

 

 

On other hand, although I certainly can’t domesticate God … maybe, in a sense, someone else already has.

 

(To be continued …)

 

 

*The Snow Leopard (Penguin Classics, revised edition 2008), 242 and 244 .  These quotations and page numbers are directly from Matthiessen’s book.  The devotional which sent me to The Snow Leopard uses the Schaller quotation above. See Brother Curtis Almquist, “Contentment,” The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, http://ssje.org/sermons/?p=2096  .

 

 

** C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Harper Collins, 2005), 191.

 

 

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