Monday, August 22, 2005

The God of All Things
Last Spring I read a novel for my World Lit class called The God of Small Things by a rather remarkable Indian woman named Arundhati Roy. The novel, which is not for the faint of heart or for people who like to feel happy when they read, is beautifully devastating, an unforgettable combination of poetically appealing prose and the horrible tragedies of a painfully disintegrating family and the unmerciful caste system of India. In truth, I am haunted by the images and language of this novel, and the one in particular is that which the both the novel's and this blog's titles are derived. Roy writes:

''[...] in some places, like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds
of despair competed for primacy. And that personal despair could
never be desperate enough. That something happened when personal turmoil
dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving,
ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation. That Big God
howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cozy and
contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own
temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became
resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much
mattered. And the less it mattered, the less it mattered. It was never
important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country
that she came from, poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of
peace, Worse Things kept happening. So Small God laughed a hollow laugh,
and skipped away cheerfully. Like a rich boy in shorts. He whistled,
kicked stones. The source of his brittle elation was the relative
smallness of his misfortune. He climbed into people's eyes and became an
exasperating expression." (p. 20)

Of course, after reading the novel, you know that Small God hides inside people and creates an abscess. And of course, Roy isn't referring to God Almighty. But there were many things that struck me about this passage. Here in America, we who are so far from the kind of suffering that is known daily in countries like India, we who are so far removed from the horrors of war and poverty and injustice, we can so often become wrapped up in our personal sufferings that we think nothing of the general problems of our nation and our world except as it affects our personal state of being. I think that is one of our greatest weaknesses, and that we should never mistake "small god" for "big god," as Roy put it. Because if we do, we stop caring about the poor and oppressed, the very people that Jesus commands us to care for. And we allow our nation to become a place where the individual is valued above the people for whom, by whom, and of whom our government was created, and where freedoms and rights of the individual take precedence over the freedom and rights of the nation.

That said, I also was reminded of the importance of personal suffering. Being concerned with larger suffering does not inoculate us against our own private pain, and as the writer of Ecclesiates explains, "there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance" (ch.3 v.4). It seems to me that to deny ourselves weeping is to deny ourselves some of the sweetness of laughing and to deny our mourning is to miss some of the rhythm of the dance. And as a friend recently pointed out, Christ suffered greatly. He was a man of constant sorrows, and if we never know suffering of our own we may never know Him fully, never be able to "share in His sufferings" as Paul wrote (Romans 8:17). I think that we have a right to our suffering, small though it may be. We have a right to see it through to the end of it's season. Because it grows us. Makes us stronger. And it unites us with other human beings. Not everyone is happy, but as Michael Stipe of R.E.M. wrote, "Everybody hurts sometimes." But mostly, I think we're entitled to our small sorrows because God is the God of small things. He cares deeply about us as individuals. Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs on your heard are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew10:29-31). He knows what it is to suffer, and is with us in our sufferings. Even our small sufferings. I was recently introduced to a song by Natalie Grant called "Held," which I highly recommend. The chorus says, "This is what it is to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it means to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell you'd be held," and that moved me so much because God never promised us an easy life. In fact He promised us a hard one, but He also promised to hold us, to stay with us, and send us His very Spirit. This is the God who is unwilling that one should perish. This is the God who would leave the ninety-nine for the one. This is the God of small things. And this is also the God of big things. This is my God.

So, these postings are my small things. My small sorrows and my small joys. My small dreams and my small fears. The small lessons that I learn. And maybe a few big things sometimes. It is small me standing utterly amazed that I matter to a very big God.

And I hope that somewhere in my words, you will find a small blessing.



At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

shanna early its so nice to hear from you!! and cool that you have your blog now. i heard you chopped off your hair. i know that was a long time ago..but still.


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