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December 15, 2008
St. James has both a monthly thrift shop and a used book library. Twenty paces from the front door of our house. Heaven will probably be like this, too.

And so my days off are spent in other places: in the Florence of the Renaissance, in a Yiddish community in Alaska, in 16th century India and 20th century Istanbul. I read until I can't keep my eyes open any more, and then I dream about what I read when I fall asleep.

I study scripture a fair amount, of course, but for the most part, I don't read theology for pleasure. I read novels, history, biography and other kinds of nonfiction, but not theology. My reason for this preference is theological, though: we find the traces of God in the conversation of history. God happens among us, steadily and with ongoing creative power. The traces of God become visible as we look, like a polaroid snapshot: you look and, as you look, figures and colors take shape before your eyes. I prefer to see it there.

I prefer to write it there, too. To signal the happening of God in words, so that someone reading it might begin to look and see: that is the theology of writing. And, just as theatre isn't religious only if people appear in onstage in their bathrobes and call each other "thou", so it is not only in books about God that we see God. It would be a paltry God indeed who could only inhabit places everyone already agreed were holy. A God incarnate walks our earth and necessarily steps in our mud. Sees what we see. Thinks and feels with us.

And yet. And yet. And yet, it cannot be that God is simply a supernatural being, a Paul Bunyanesque figure who is like us except really big and strong. Though we may alternately comfort and frighten ourselves with the image of God the Father, it is an image. All religious language is metaphor. God cannot be "a being." God must be being itself, the fact of existence -- or God cannot be at all. Visible in the events of history for those with the eyes and the will to see, God can never be contained in it. God is free, or God is not God.

I finished The Yiddish Policemen's Union this morning. It's my day off. Now I have started The Enchantress of Florence, and I have somebody's old copy of War and Remembrance waiting on the shelf for a re-read. Gorgeous.
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