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God Wears Red

by David E. Roy

Linda has suffered from immobilizing panic attacks most of her adult life. A strongly religious woman of 39, she often wondered why this was happening to her. Was this some kind of divine punishment?

In her therapy with me, it became clear that what was really producing her anxiety was a deep, unconscious conflict between being her parents’ sweet little girl and being the passionate, bold adult woman she wants to be. Linda dreams of owning a red sports car and frequently wears red. For her, red is the color of passion, adventure, and, of course, anger. She has been easily frightened by each of these important qualities.

Linda brought a stack of childhood pictures to a recent session. The photographs covered a span from age two until young adulthood. Nearly all of the pictures captured her posing in a nice dress, standing with her feet together, smiling ever so sweetly at the camera.

She came to a subsequent session wearing red. Her nails were finally done the way she wanted them, bold and flashy. She began the session talking about her pain at mom’s subtle diminishment of Linda’s appearance. She had asked mom’s opinion of her nails. Mom, without ever having looked at Linda’s hands, said, "They look nice, dear."

We talked about this for a bit, then I introduced her to an imaginary T-shirt exercise. I told her that on the front of her T-shirt was a slogan about herself. "Goody Two-Shoes" was what emerged spontaneously. Typically, the back of the T-shirt carries the shadow, but this did not seem to be the case for Linda. "Daddy’s [Good] Little Girl" was on the reverse. It occurred to me to tell her this was her day T-shirt, and to ask her what was on her night T-shirt: "Foxy Lady!" she said quickly. I surprised myself by telling her that "God is an adventurous God." The intuition was to offer this religious woman support for her adventurous side, a side which she clearly needs in many areas of her life.

Process theology affirms that God is an adventurous God, a God who wears red more often than not. This adventurousness is rooted in what A. N. Whitehead calls God’s Primordial Nature. God’s incredible passion for growth and change emerges out of this Primordial Nature, and this creative passion is relentless. Process theology suggests that God’s fundamental desire is to move all of Creation toward the realization of the general values of harmony, intensity, complexity, beauty, peace, and enjoyment.

If we agree with process theology that the nature of God’s power is persuasive and not coercive, then we can see there are no guarantees about the outcome of the outpouring of God’s creative passion into the world. God cannot be sure of what will happen, for we are free to accept or reject some or all of God’s new possibilities. New ventures inspired by this passion may yield wonderful results, or they may fail. This means each new moment for God is an adventure full of possibility and risk.

While God cannot guarantee the outcome, we can guarantee that God will keep coming back to the same point over and over, looking for creative ways to coax us over the bed of hot coals upon which we dread to tread. Whether we experience this as a curse or a blessing depends upon which side of the bed of coals we occupy at the moment.

God’s creative, adventurous nature directly and inevitably involves us in our own creative adventures. Avoiding them is painful. Avoiding them is futile. Embracing them also can be painful, but this is pain of a different sort than the pain from avoidance. This is the fresh pain which results from tearing apart the old structure of the self. This pain inevitably is followed by a surge of energy, strength, and joy when the self is reborn healthier, richer, and more mature than its predecessor.

How many of us can identify with Bilbo Baggins in J.R R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit? Bilbo did not seek or desire the dangerous adventure which was brought directly into his cozy Hobbit home by the visit from the wizard Gandalf. At the end of the book, however, Bilbo had grown enormously in wisdom, power, and stature. Homecoming was all the more sweet because of this growth, yet it was clear that things would never be the same. Bilbo was changed forever. Gandalf is like God’s relentless, unpredictable spirit of change, unsettling us when we simply want a hot cup of tea by the hearth. As John Cobb and David Griffin bluntly say in their introduction to Process Theology, God is "the basic source of unrest in the universe."

Understanding God as an creative, adventurous God argues that our lives ought to reflect this same spirit, at least some of the time. The Life of Good News, the Life in the Spirit, often is risky. This is not license to be reckless or impulsive. But it is strong encouragement to listen carefully to those sacred whispers from the depths of our souls, whispers which are luring us to try new ventures, whatever they may be for us.