Meeting God in Unexpected Places


“In my family, God was a foreign concept. We didn’t go to church. We didn’t pray. Christmas was about Santa Claus and Easter was about chocolate bunnies.”

By Stefanie Thomas | Twitter: @stefanie_nicole

One of my favourite things to do is go see movies in the theatre. I love it when a film can make me feel something, whether it brings on belly laughs or the ugly cry. I find it satisfying to sink into a big-screen story, whether it sweeps me off to another place and time or reminds me of home.

A few days ago I watched a film I’d been looking forward to seeing. Appealing trailer, solid actors, it all looked very up-my-alley. But during a little post-screening review (held standing in a parking lot), my sister and I agreed that the movie fell a bit flat. Something about the characters and story didn’t ring true. The “You complete me” moment that was surely supposed to have us sighing or reaching for our hankies, instead made us think, “Yeah … not really buying this.”

I see a lot of movies, and when one leaves me with that lukewarm, “meh” feeling, I can’t help but compare it to films that really stirred me. One that comes to mind is Alive, based on the true story of a South American rugby team whose plane crashed into the Andes mountains. For much of the two hours I sat mesmerized, wide-eyed with hand over mouth. The plane crash scenes were horrific and the ending was bittersweet. And in between, well, this survival story is kind of about people eating people, people.

Yes, Alive was intense, but perhaps more than the clatter of flying fuselage and cries for help, it was a handful of words strung together, delivered in a quiet scene just moments into the movie, that struck a chord in me.

A dimly lit John Malkovich, portraying one of the flight passengers, speaks to the camera. Cigarette smoke curls up around his face as he remembers the plane crash he survived two decades earlier.

“I felt the presence of God.”

His words got my attention. In my family, God was a foreign concept. We didn’t go to church. We didn’t pray. Christmas was about Santa Claus and Easter was about chocolate bunnies. It would probably be fair to say that in my house, religion was almost a bad word.

So why did the narrator’s words stick with me long after I’d left the theatre?

“Now there’s the God they taught me about at school. And there is the God that’s hidden by what surrounds us in this civilization. That’s the God I met on the mountain.”

Something in me responded to this picture he painted, the idea that perhaps there is a God that has nothing to do with “religion” or any of the judgements or rules that typically turned me off and shut me down. I imagined that this God the narrator described was an expansive God, an accessible God.

I didn’t do anything with this new possibility, but looking back I see that a seed had been planted. Like stepping stones from then to now, I can recall conversations, encounters, and solitary moments along the way that shone light and rained life into that seed. It began as a longing for something I couldn’t yet name. What followed was a small wanting to believe in God. And eventually I came to know God.

There was a time when I wished I’d had faith all along. But I’ve come to appreciate my slow, sometimes stubborn, opening to God. At times it was encouraged in ways we might expect – being moved by a message, or prayed over by another who seemed to know the cries of my heart. Sometimes it was strengthened by simply seeing the light and love of God in others whose quiet sense of peace spoke volumes. But much of the time, God got my attention in ways I never could have predicted.

 I can’t help but think that our God moments are tailor-made for each of us by the One who knows us best. This God who loves us so is always there, whispering our name. There’s no way of knowing which invitation will stir us, ignite something in us, take our breath away.

Maybe we meet God on a mountain. Maybe we see God in a sunset, hear God in a Coldplay song. Maybe we meet God at the end of our rope. Maybe we feel God through the kindness of another. What I love is that in any moment, in unexpected places, God can catch our hearts. Yes, even in a movie theatre.

Sidenote: Perhaps you can imagine my reaction when, shortly after being captivated by Alive, I sat in a UBC classroom and saw the man invigilating my exam was the very same one who’d played the movie’s pilot. I now know that it was professor and actor Jerry Wasserman, but at the time it was disarming, almost haunting, and it took me a while to settle and focus on my exam. If I were a cartoon character, I’m sure the word “ZOINKS!” would have appeared over my head.


About Stefanie:

Stefanie is a Registered Clinical Counsellor living in Vancouver, BC. She feels blessed to work in a helping profession and is grateful that her work requires her to show up not in a power suit but with listening ears and a compassionate heart. Stefanie enjoys spending time with family and friends and has never met a kid or baby she doesn’t like. She is a noticer and appreciator of birds (chickadees, herons, eagles) and many a beach rock has come home in her pocket. Stefanie is a lover of music, tv and movies, and she is gifted at absorbing and retaining useless pop culture trivia. She loves walking, fresh air, the smell of dirt, and anything of the salt and vinegar persuasion. She can often be found puttering.

Image credit: Going to the movies, by Kevin Dooley