Swimming in Glory, Swimming in God
In 2005, David Foster Wallace addressed the graduating class at Kenyon College and in that often-quoted speech he spoke of something scripture refers to as a state of sleep when he talked about “unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.” He began with a parable:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
Near the end of the speech, Wallace brings home the point, talking about the value of education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, he says, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is real and essential, but hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time. His words remind me of the glory and transcendence that surrounds us every minute of every day. It is easy to lose sight of how filled with God this world is, and so we have to keep reminding ourselves, lest we fall back into a state of sleep, “this is water, this is water.” The state of sleep I am referring to is that going through the motions kind of existence that doesn’t stop to bow or bend to wonder, because wonder is rarely noticed and has become merely background noise for our ceaseless activity. We need the words of poets ancient and modern to call us to attention. “Hey, stop and take notice. God is in everything. God is the everything.”
We are more accustomed to thinking of God as separate from creation. “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” is an intimate picture, but still presents a God who stands alone outside of the world. What Christian mystics have said, and what the Bible speaks of in a variety of places is not a God who holds us in his hands, but rather a God who holds us and all of creation within God’s very being, a God whose breath is the air we breathe, whose heartbeat is the pulse of every living thing, a God who is intimately present within the world of matter.
We have become accustomed to thinking of God as residing outside of the world of matter, as if there were a neat division between the spiritual and the physical, but scripture has proclaimed something different from that. God stands outside, but also within creation. God is high and holy, yet also very near. Hear some of what scripture has to say about Divine presence, about the transcendence and the immanence of the triune God we know as Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.
In Christ were created all things in heaven and on earth, everything visible and everything invisible.... Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity.—Col. 1-15-17
...the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain him. —2 Chr. 2:6 KJV
The heavens declare the glory of God,
the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork;
day discourses of it to day,
night to night hands on the knowledge.—Ps. 19.1-2
Where could I go to escape your spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence?
If I climb the heavens, you are there,
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I flew to the point of sunrise, or westward across the sea
your hand would still be guiding me, your right hand holding me. —Ps. 139.7-10
Do I not fill heaven and earth? It is Yahweh who speaks.—Jer. 23.24
In him we live, and move, and have our being.... "We are his offspring."—Acts 17.28 NIV
For from him, and through him and to him are all things.—Rm. 8.36 NIV
There is one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.—Eph. 4.6
These scriptures and others like them point us to God who is not distant and unknowable, but very present, so ubiquitously present that it is easy to allow glory to become simply background noise, easy to be swimming in God and yet be unaware that we are in the water.