By Dan Wootton
The other morning as I headed down the hill in the dark, I felt something silently whiz past my face. I walked on, and as the dim light marginally improved, it happened again. This time I could just make out that it was a bat. Not a big fruit bat, this one was only about as big as my hand and its flight was erratic.
I stopped and stood still in the darkness. There was more than one, I could feel it. My daily appointment with mystery had begun.
Bats, of course, are not blind; in fact they can see almost as well as we can. But to fly around and hunt for moths in the dark, they use a high frequency system which works in a similar way to sonar. They make calls as they fly and listen to the returning echoes of the various objects near them to ‘map out’ their surroundings.
Eventually I arrived at Hurstbridge and boarded my train. It was still darkish outside but quite light inside the carriage where I could see a teenage girl talking on her mobile phone. “O my God”, she was saying, and repeated it.
The acronym/phrase OMG (Oh My God!) seems particularly prevalent these days. I hear it and see it everywhere: texts, e-mails and oh-so-often on the television with all those previews for home renovation shows. Generally a hand or hands are placed on the side of the face as it is exclaimed.
According to the Urban Dictionary, “OMG is an exclamation of shock or surprise, often used repeatedly by stupid people who are shocked and surprised by almost everything and insert it into conversations whenever possible”.
It’s probably fair to say that, today, the religious significance of OMG is more often than not, unintended. It’s simply a way of expressing surprise or concern. But many who would be reading this will have spent quite a deal of their lives trying to form a relational understanding of the G in OMG and would not necessarily use this phrase lightly.
Certainly that was the case in olden days as I recently happened upon a 1764 edition of The Garden of the Soul: A Manual of Spiritual Exercises and Instructions for Christians who (living in the World) aspire to devotion. It was written by the Right Reverend Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1781).
It begins with a section on ‘What every Christian must believe’:
“Every Christian must believe that there is one God, and no more than one god: That this God is a pure Spirit, the Lord and Maker of heaven and earth, who has neither beginning nor end, but is always the same; is everywhere present, knows and sees all things …”
Challoner goes on to address God in various ways, “May it please thee, O my eternal God, almighty …” [in modern day parlance, the acronym might be OMEGA]. Elsewhere he writes, “O my God, thou art my God, the God of my heart, the God of my soul, and the God of my Spirit”.
As I listened to the OMG girl on the train, my mind harked back to 30 minutes earlier and the bat in the darkness. My observable universe will of course always be a sphere around me, where ‘I’ am at the centre, whether or not I call out, ‘Oh my God’.
Perhaps this is best illustrated by the bat’s use of sonar or echolocation. Whilst I occasionally bump into the one God or the one God bumps into me, the encounter tells me nothing at all about my position in the universe as a whole. Sure, there’s an element of surprise, but it’s invariably a manifestation of love in some form or another.
What it tells me is that I’ve bumped into an ineffable mystery. Ineffability is concerned with ideas that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken (or written) words. But I think it’s worth the effort to try and do so.
“God is at home,” Meister Eckhart said, “We are in the far country.”