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Essay

I See God

By November 13, 2014 2 Comments
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Two weeks ago we met JJ TenClay, Reformed Church in America missionary and social worker. “JJ will work in the region of Naples, Italy, as a social action worker, developing partnerships with medical, mental health/substance abuse, governmental, and social service entities as well as ministries focused on meeting the physical, spiritual, and socioeconomic needs of the over 500,000 migrants in the area, most of whom are from Africa and the Middle East.” She and her family—her husband and two children—have relatively recently relocated to Naples and are immersed in learning the local culture and language as they engage in ministry. They are partnering with the Waldensian Church in Italy. Today we are reintroduced to her husband, the Rev. Tim TenClay, who has written a month of Sunday postings here at the Twelve some time back. Tim is serving as pastor to two local Waldensian congregations.

A few weeks ago, my Italian professor taught me a phrase he’d memorized as a schoolboy, a phrase beautifully set to music by Giovanni Paisiello in an aria from his oratorio La passione di Gesù Cristo:

“Dovunque il guardo giro
immenso Dio
ti vedo”

[Wherever I look around – O immense God – I see you.]

This isn’t the first time I’ve moved to a new country; it isn’t the first time I’ve lived in a new culture and been surrounded by a new language. My own history has taught me that I’m the kind of person who easily sees the “good” in newness. “New” is almost always exciting to me.

I love dreaming of new things and planning new projects.
I love starting new activities and meeting new people.
It’s easy for me to look at our new life here and reverently whisper “O immense God, I see you here….”

There is also a certain temptation to imagine that this may be uniquely true of Italy. After all, God is a big deal here. There are polycentenial churches on nearly every corner (and often chapels in between). Priests and nuns scurry around everywhere. I’m equally as likely to grab a seat on a bus next to a brown-robed friar as a heavily-pierced teen. Religion is taught in the public schools; my youngest daughter is instructed to pray before eating her school lunch, and even the most irreverent soul occasionally seems to utter “Dio benedica.”

God is a big deal here.

It’s easy to see God… or more precisely, it’s easy to see the things of God.

As it turns out, there is a certain dark comedy at play. Sometimes the things of God are so attractive that I’m tempted to let them be enough. After all, why bother with God, when the things of God are so magnificent?

God, ironically, can be a bit less inspirational.

Yeah, I actually wrote what you thought you read: God, ironically, can be a bit less inspirational.

There’s nothing inspirational about the stench that emanated from a lumpy pile of humanity I saw this morning hiding from the rain under a broken umbrella and a filthy coat… but could it be that God was there?

There’s nothing inspirational about the terrified, floor-gazing young man I stood next to on the bus yesterday who – for reasons I can only guess – desperately didn’t want anyone to speak to him… but could it be that God was there?

There’s nothing inspirational about the elderly men shuddering from late-stage Parkinsons parked on chairs outside stores or coffee shops (there are at least four of them I see regularly) who seem to be doing little more than waiting for the morning they don’t wake up… but could it be that God is there?

There’s nothing inspirational about the “game” I’ve watched street vendors and police play around one of the local piazzas – vendors setting up their wares… police shooing them away… vendors moving and setting up their wares somewhere else… police shooing them away – repeat all day long… but could it be that God is there?

I have the growing suspicion that many of the places God presence is most clearly revealed would turn out to be places we would seldom modify with the adjective “inspirational.” Yet, it seems they are places where the word is most needed.

The big question is whether or not I (you/we) will even notice amidst all of the “godly things” we have filling up our lives.

Then, I suppose, the question is whether or not we’ll do anything about it.

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