Emmanuel Mysterious


erin thomas -emmanuel mysterious-3By Erin Thomas | Twitter: @erinthomas_123

We’ve just finished living through the cold season of winter, culminating in the incarnation of spring and with it the reminder that God’s immanent presence renews us and restores us.

At least the arbitrary numbered square on the calendar tells me it is supposed to be spring. The outdoor thermometer reads -26Cº on Easter morning, the first day of April. Sadly it is not an April Fool’s Day joke. After only one and a half hours of sleep, I rally my system, attend Easter services, return home, bundle up, and trek out into the wilderness for a long afternoon snowshoe.

In the woods of northern Alberta in these harsh winter-and-now-spring months, I see little wildlife (and certainly no greening plants or trees). The bears have not yet emerged for the season, and the only spirit that seems at all present is absence. The hum of spring, summer, and autumn is void, not moving at all over the waters. Any water is frozen and still. Only the wind howls across the landscape, swirling snow and shrieking past barren trees.

And I wonder: Does God hide away from me on purpose?

In my world where the Immanent God is Ever-Present, Ever-Close, Ever-Faithful, and Ever-Surrounding-Me either in the form of Jesus or in the form of Spirit, does God need to dodge me now and then? Am I so reliant on God’s availability and steadfastness that I am unable to be aware of God’s Mystery?

My whole life, as it was for many of us, I was taught about the need to ask Jesus to come into my heart; to claim the promises of Jesus; to be covered under the blood of Jesus. Without this acceptance of the Immanent God there was no hope for my soul.

But what if there is hope?

The snow crunches smartly beneath my snowshoes as I carry on. If I slow down my pace, I see signs of life—moose, deer, coyote, mice, and rabbit. If I listen, I hear pine and evening grosbeaks, chickadees, blue jays, and woodpeckers. Life is teeming here, but it is hidden away from my sight, from my lived experience.

I shudder to think of God shrinking away from me, hibernating, or remaining in the shadows. I want my God to be available to me round the clock. In my weakness, anxiety, and fear, I need my God to be always present to my cries and joys. In my desire for relationship, I ache for my God to be the perfect, attentive partner.

But God is all Immanent.

God is Mystery.

God is hidden.

I learn to grow in any relationship—learning about myself, the other person, and the energy between us. How healthy of me is it to assume that God will function as my Immanent One all the time? If God is Mystery as well as Presence, would it not make sense that I would need to come to know this aspect of God? I’ll never understand it fully, of course. Mystery never can be, which is part of Mystery’s delight.

Against the cold blue sky, I lift my hand to block the powerful winter sunlight. It has little heat but immense brilliance. I need to be careful about where I rest my eyes because the sun’s reflection off the snow is just as damaging as the sun itself. Only during winter do I encounter such light—present and distant at the same time. Powerful and yet not quite meeting all my needs in this frigid climate.

God is here.

It’s just God is not here in ways I need God to be or believe I need God to be.

God has left me to discover deeper divine identities without abandoning me.

It’s a terrifying thought.

And a liberating one.

The winter light, the moose bed of trampled snow and corse fur, birdsong—all of it sings of Presence both here and not here-for-me. Life has not departed, but rather expresses itself in ways too difficult for me to comprehend. And this mystery drives me forward in my relationship with God.

I pause often and wish God would stop it.

Winter is when life is most frail; winter is when the days are short and the light is scarce; winter is when I need to fall back into Presence, not Absence! Yet here I am, scrunching my way across a frozen beaver pond, between massive tufts of brown grasses partially buried in white snow. Presence, while active, does not come easily here. It’s not that God wants me to work for God’s intimacy.

Rather, God desires I experience more of who God is.

In the winters of my life, when I believe I need God’s immanence the most, I now stop and wonder at the gift of Absence. Perhaps God does hide away at times, not to toughen me up or to punish me or to show me that I’ve somehow fallen away, but rather to introduce me to more of God’s own Self.

Crunching the snow beneath my snowshoes, I realize just how warm and comforting that thought truly is.


Erin ThomasAbout Erin:

Erin Thomas is a Masters of Divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, intern hospital chaplain, and reluctant mystic. She’s also blogger, poet, and proud auntie to three adventuresome nephews. You can find her on FacebookTwitter and on her blog, Reluctant Mysticism.