A God with skin on
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.’
Teresa of Avila
I want a God with skin on. A God with warm hands, a loving smile and arms big enough to encircle me and hold me tightly. I want a God who throws back her head and laughs, who shares a coffee, who sits alongside me and listens while I tell her all my struggles. I want a God who doesn’t condemn when I mess up, who lets me try again, who knows that I am utterly and completely fallible and expects that I will fail. I want a God who will pick me up, dust me down, stick a plaster on my grazed knee and tell me to try again. I want a God who is fully human and knows how much I need to feel safe.
The God who lives in church isn’t always like this. I think she is probably the same God, but somehow, when she walks through those doors into the church building, she assumes a different persona. She gets lost amongst the angsty Old Testament readings. She baffles with those parables that talk about throwing people into the fire. She hides away in those long convoluted prayers that go on about the Queen and the Ministers of Government.
She doesn’t have flesh and blood and bone although she is still God.
To be honest, I’ve never had much luck in finding God in the places I was supposed to find her. Like church meetings and services, like reading the Bible, in all the activities of normal, paid-up Christians. I could never feel much which was a tad wearying when everyone else around me could. To be fair, my Cathedral experience isn’t what you might call brimming with fervour and feeling – the most unscheduled outburst will be a hefty round of applause for a choirboy who has just received his RSCM Gold Award. But that doesn’t matter because God is still there, clapping along and rejoicing in that thirteen-year old’s bashful pride.
For most of my life God has been ‘out there.’ It never occurred to me that she could be here, right in front of me, making me a cup of tea and asking me about my day. But that is the God I am getting to know. That is the God I am allowing in to my being. That is the God who I want to trust.
And I’ve found God in people. People who call themselves Christian but don’t immediately think I’m not because I’ve found it so hard to talk about it. People who believe that I have a faith, even when I find it hard to believe it myself. People who encourage me that I have a life of prayer when I talk about how I come alive when I sing in my choir and lose myself in that anthem or this psalm. People who tell me that there are many ways to God and mine is just as valid as the next. People who are expansive and joyful and peaceful and not running on the agenda of saving every soul they meet. People who know that only God does that, all the time, every day, constantly creating and redeeming his creation.
A God with skin on.
Finding this kind of God is like coming home. When you have been wandering the backstreets for what seems like forever, locked in a sort of perpetual spiritual Groundhog Day and then you realise that all you have to do is look into another’s eyes and she’s there, it’s like discovering home and knowing it for the first time. (I think T.S. Eliot said something like that.)
And this God is also very easy with the paraphernalia of church and processions and pageantry. She knows that it’s all part of what we do to say how precious she is in our lives. She doesn’t mind a bit of ecclesiastical choreography and has even taught me a few steps. My fundamentalist upbringing would never have had had any truck with signing myself with the cross, smacking as it did with overtones of idolatry and Popery. But my God welcomes it. ‘It’s okay,’ she says. And it helps me feel safe and connected.
And isn’t a God with skin on exactly what we see all the time in the loving actions of those who care for other people? It’s the kid who sits next to the kid who’s not picked for the team. It’s stopping to buy a hot chocolate and a BLT for the guy sleeping in the doorway. It’s rocking up to pack bags at the foodbank because you said you would. It’s schlepping into town on a bitterly cold January night to make sandwiches for the night shelter. It’s making a coffee for the window cleaner on a freezing day.
Now you must understand that I’m not saying I’ve done all these things. I’m no saint. But I know people who have. And I know that can feel like God, working, holding, loving to make those situations a tad more bearable. Through people’s hands, feet, eyes and bodies.
I guess Jesus is God with skin on. But he was a Jewish guy who lived two thousand years ago, and much as I want to connect with him, it doesn’t feel that easy sometimes. He’d definitely be on my list of six dinner party guests from any century though, and I’d even serve fish to help him feel at home. I’d want to ask him how wonderful it must have been to make a blind man see, a lame man walk, a dead girl breathe. I’d ask him what it felt like to walk from that tomb and surprise his friends by turning up at their house or cooking breakfast for them on the beach. I’d want to sit next to him and feel the love seeping from his every pore – the love which says just touch the hem of my garment and you will be healed.
I guess that what faith is about. Setting a place at the table. Believing in the unseen dinner guest.
And knowing that Christ is alive in these hands, those feet, his eyes, her body.
A God with skin on.