The Creative Life: God Sets the Melody and We Improvise
BY GEORGE HERMANSON and JAY MCDANIEL
Many of us have had something like a mystical or religious experiences. Sometimes these experiences occur while listening to music, or while being immersed in nature, or while enjoying the companionship of a trusted and tender friend. We have sensed that we are small but included in something more than us: something beautiful and good, something on the side of life. We do not assume that this something is all-powerful. We do not ask it to prevent all tragedies. Still we feel that there's a goodness, a beauty, within the depths of things.
In order to make sense of these experiences, it can help to have a way to understand God — one that makes sense in our world. In our desire for this form of understanding, a relational view of God gives us an understanding of divine power and compassion. This view is called “panentheism.” It is image of God with a spacious heart.
Panentheists experience God as both subject and mystery — the personal and the eternal. God is in the world and the world is in God, and God is more than the world. God is the necessary and eternal source for the world; it is God’s creative act that makes nothing into something, that brings order out of chaos. God depends on the world because the nature of God’s actual experience depends on the interaction with all living reality. As author and theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki put it, “God is the supremely related one.”
God is at home in this unfinished creation. God loves to work with the independence in the created order. God offers novelty, and we use our freedom to react. The world is at play, able to mess up and to go forward. The future unfolds through God offering possibilities, aims and beauty to each moment. We, in turn, respond and add to the offering. God responds again.
God’s power is relational and persuasive, not coercive. What we say and do has an effect on how God will respond. God gives but also receives; acts but also is acted upon; has a vision but is open to change and transformation. There is a call and response built into our relational world, and the world develops through it.
Imagine a jazz group. God sets down the melody. It is passed on to the others in the group, and they get the feel for it. Each listens closely to what the others are saying. Each, in turn, adds originality, colour and difference, tweaking the piece to offer it back to God. God now has to work with what was created by the subjective experiences of the players. God has to feel the offering to give it more feeling. The piece is transformed, to arrive at some satisfaction, which then becomes the ground for the next moments of improvisation. God with us. Alive. Creating. Transforming. Visioning. Maturing. It is within our experience of the world that we vividly experience the presence of God.
Rev. George Hermanson is the director of the Madawaska Institute for Culture and Religion near Burnstown, Ontario,