By Brandon Vogt
When I was younger, I used to believe God lived in outer space. I just knew he dwelled on some distant, undiscovered asteroid in the far reaches of the Milky Way. And I figured that one day, a group of astronauts exploring the solar system would accidentally discover God’s hidden heaven. “Aw shucks, ” God would bristle, snapping his fingers in frustration, “you found me.”
Now that I’m (slightly) older, I see how unlikely this scenario is. We will never completely find God deep in outer space, nor in an African cave, nor on a Brazilian mountaintop. God’s fullness simply won’t be discovered in our galaxy — not because he isn’t real, but because he is beyond our categories of space and time.
When Jesus prays to God who “art” in heaven, he isn’t providing clues to find God’s secret lair. Instead, he’s hinting at a foundational fact of the cosmos: “God is. He is the ground of all being, and wherever ‘he is’, there is heaven.” Or as the Catechism more clearly states, the prayer’s opening expression does not refer to “a place, but a way of being.”
God’s being is unique. He isn’t one being among billions and he doesn’t live in one place amidst many. So to the atheist who begs for evidence of God’s existence — a crater from God’s heavenly asteroid or a hair from his dangling beard—the Church says, “Impossible!” It can’t happen — not because God doesn’t exist, but because he transcends all of our earthly categories — all labels, all boxes, all definitions. He can’t be grasped, he can’t be measured and probed; he can’t be “bigger”, “closer”, “wiser”, or “older” than anything else in our world: he simply “is”; Our Father who “art.”
Which of course brings us to the book of Exodus. For there, after being charged with delivering a message to his people, Moses asks God’s name in exchange. God, who can never lie, replies bluntly, “I AM.” Later, when Jesus’ own identity is questioned, he too adopts the same puzzling name: “before Abraham was, I AM.” The title is confusing, especially when we try to fit it into our own understanding of identity: “You are what? No, seriously, who are you? Where are you?” But when placed next to the opening words of Jesus’ prayer, the answer makes more sense: God just…is.
Which finally takes us to the people who best understood this identity: the saints. Note how almost all the saints are known not only by their names, but also by their locations. St. Clement of Rome, St. Francis de Sales, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Therese of Lisieux all find their names intimately tied to their places of being. The saints show us that, at least here on earth, your “where” is wrapped up in your “who.”
And it’s the same with you and me: right now we’re known as Brandon from Casselberry, Jonathan who lives in Albany, or Cindy from down the street. But as St. Paul says — and here’s what the saint know best — we must always remember that ‘heaven’ is our true homeland, the place ultimately connected to our identity and the land our souls longs for. We were made not to be “Joe who art in Albuquerque” but “Joe who art in heaven.”
St. John Chrysostom says it this way: Jesus describes God as the one “who art in heaven” not to “limit God to the heavens, ” but to lift us from the earth. The “art” doesn’t so much point to where God is right now, but to where we eventually will be.
So as we pray to “Our Father who art, ” may we ponder the startling reality that God simply is, but may we also sail onward to our true homeland. As we draw closer to “Our Father, ” the One “who is, ” we near the day when we too will forever be him or her who “art” in heaven.
“Heaven, the Father’s house, is the true homeland toward which we are heading and to which, already, we belong.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2802)
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “Art”?
Brandon Vogt is a 24-year old Catholic writer who blogs at The Thin Veil. He is also the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops who Tweet, which will be released in August 2011 by Our Sunday Visitor. Brandon and his wonderful wife Kathleen live in Florida where they are attempting to raise two saints: the prophetic Isaiah and the contemplative Teresa.
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