Where can God be found? A Reflection on the Prophet Ezekiel (@nicolahwriter)

Last Sunday I was serving in a church in the city centre of Oxford. Facing the altar it felt like there was no one else in the building. On the altar the six candles that looked taller than me flickered at the end of their shining gold candlesticks. Jesus, wrapped in crimson robes and surrounded by a multitude of saints, looked down on me from the stained glass windows above my head. I took a deep breath and it felt like I breathed in more incense than oxygen. Everything in my eye line, including my own robes, was rich and colourful, sending my senses buzzing into overdrive. I loved it.

Until recently I haven’t been one for finding much of God in church buildings or traditional holy places. I’ve always caught more of God on the wind, in the stillness of a new day before the world gets going or in a night sky full of stars. But my experience at this church hints, for me, at some of what the prophet Ezekiel might have been missing as he began his new life in exile in Babylon. There he was starting again with the people of Judah who had recently been captured from their homeland, which lay in ruins, and who were forced to settle many miles away by their captors.

Ezekiel

Ezekiel http://archive.bigbible.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Ezekiel-168×300.jpg

Ezekiel was a priest and in his writings laments the destruction of that special holy place in Jerusalem, the Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders. For Ezekiel the temple was the centre of everything. The very house of God. The temple was flanked by two 40 ft columns marking the entrance of the holy place. From there, in the inner sanctuary, were two cherubim, or big winged creatures to you and I, that guarded the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the people believe the presence of God rested.

Some scholars have suggested that Ezekiel is writing from exile at the age of thirty, the age when he would have taken up his full priestly role in the temple in Jerusalem and coincidently the age that I am now as I prepare for ordination in the Church of England this summer. Ezekiel might not be just lamenting the loss of his homeland, then, but also the loss of a vocation to serve in the temple full of all the sights, sounds and smells he had come to love. Serving in my city centre church I was captivated by a sense of God that was so tangible I almost felt that I could reach out and touch it. For Ezekiel this was suddenly snatched away. Where now can God be found?

The book of Ezekiel, then, can be seen as an exploration of this eternal question and the circumstances of exile that forced the people to ask it. One of the psalmists describes the people in exile, that ‘by the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion’ (Psalm 137). Ezekiel, in this strange new land weeps too and yet finds God again in dreams and visions that have him face down on the floor in front of the glory that is being revealed to him.

Ezekiel’s categories are blown open showing him that God can speak to him here, there or anywhere. As another psalmist writes ‘the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ (Psalm 24). Yes, God was found and known in a special way the Temple but, as Ezekiel learns, the world is God’s and he fills it. Every ordinary thing has the potential to draw us into a deeper reality and make God known. Ezekiel finds this himself by the river where the people wept, in the place where everything seems lost.

This, to me, is the extraordinary legacy of the exilic prophets and of Ezekiel in particular. They turned political destruction into a spiritual revolution. They saw a vision bigger than anything they had imagined and let God be God, in everything and everywhere. That is some legacy.

About Nicola Hulks