Last week I saw a picture of a duck with seventy-six ducklings - a common merganser, which is the kind with a little ponytail on the back of her head. I saw many, many baby ducks, not all hers biologically but all in her care in reality, gathered around her on the lake. Seventy-six of them bobbing along behind her, needing to be managed and led to the places where the food and shelter are and the predators are not.
The same day I heard on the radio a senator from Nebraska say, “I literally live on the most productive land in the history of the world. And Nebraska grows far more food than we could ever conceivably consume.”
Then I got home and saw that the TV was tuned in to a baseball game - or more exactly, to one game shown live on the left side of the screen while little pictures of a bunch of other games with basic stats updated with every pitch and hit and out on the right side of the screen, all while a ticker scrolled across the bottom listing all the scores from all kinds of other sports events along with news of injuries and trades and the like.
Later, I sat down to relax with the newspaper and before long I got caught up in many details about trade, foreign policy, national security, immigration law, whether there is life in that lake on Mars, and what number in the series is the new Tom Cruise-Mission Impossible movie.
And I thought to myself, today there is just a too-muchness of it all. I feel overwhelmed by the too-muchness of life.
I’ve been in this place before, many times, feeling that I need to pare things down so that I have some semblance of control, reducing the sheer number of topics galloping through my brain so that I can thoroughly understand just a few of them. To lessen the input and thereby achieve something like mastery coupled with an air of serenity. I imagine that this is what “having it all together” looks like, that this is the picture of maturity and success, a person who is able to manage the too-muchness of life.
But, Lord help me, I am so wrong about this. A beautiful life is not all about limitations. After all, Jesus said, I came that you might have life and have it abundantly. God said to Abraham, look up at the stars, look down at the grains of the desert sands, that is how many descendants you will have, more than you could ever count. Jesus’ first miracle was to turn jars of water into the equivalent of about a thousand bottles worth of excellent wine at a wedding in Cana. And his second miracle was to take a few pieces of bread and fish from a little boy’s lunch box and multiply them so to provide for the thousands of people who were following him, desperate for healing and wholeness and life and yes, so hungry for bread.
In other words, God is not about inventing limits but all about too-muchness. Abundance. Overabundance - of beauty, of blessings, of love. God is all about overflowing-ness.
God is all about the way your heart feels ready to burst wide open when you hold your newborn baby in your arms. About the way your eyes overflow with tears of both grief and gratitude when a loved one lies dying and the whole community comes out with food and flowers and visits and stories and hugs. About the way your soul soars when you see the vast ocean and sky above it and you know there’s another beautiful world under the water and yet another above the clouds, or a bee rising from a flower carrying so much pollen saddlebagged on its legs that you wonder how it ever lifted off on such delicate wings. God is all about the way beauty washes over you when you watch the sun set amid ever-changing colors and shifting shafts of light, the way your whole body thrums on a summer evening when a hundred tiny tree frogs whose rhythmic songs can be heard a mile away begin to whirr in your back yard, the way you breathe in sharply and in awe when you gaze at the Milky Way from a dark site.
Ancient people believed that if you looked at God, you would die. This is not because God was mean or vengeful but because a mere human could not withstand the abundance of glory that surrounded God. God was too powerful, too beautiful, too radiant, too holy, too awesome to come too near. One might just get blown away in the presence of God. And yet we are attracted to the overwhelming power and the goodness and the love and the great mystery of God.
So there is a too-muchness of God and of life in God and we humans are both capable and incapable of dealing with it. Creation may be shot through with divinity and humans may carry a holy spark, but there is a point when we can become stupefied by the abundance. We may wander through our lives oblivious to the too-muchness because that’s the way we can cope. To think about it continually is in itself too much. I’m afraid that if I feel all the feelings all the time, I’ll just be reduced to quivering jelly.
But how else am I going to be able to recognize the work of God in the world? How else am I going to be able to hold on to hope, to carry the flame of the overwhelming love of God into the world, to live the abundant life Jesus says he wants for me? How else am I going to love God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind unless I let the too-muchness of God’s abundance wash over me, trusting that I will not drown in its overflowing holiness?
I was skimming through my Twitter feed the other day (yes, I know, I know - Twitter has a bad reputation as a time suck and a cesspool but mine is awesome) when I came across this from American poet Chen Chen. “Being a functioning person while being a poet: I am simultaneously trying to be less overwhelmed by the world and more.”
And I thought, yes. That’s it. That’s it exactly. I try to be less overwhelmed because I am a limited human being who imagines that serenity is to be found among limitations, who is afraid of being blown away by the too-muchness of life. I cling to what I can get my arms around or my head around, to what I think I can control and understand, even if it means I go through life wearing blinders.
And yet, as someone who wants to be close to God, God who is exquisite poetry to my workaday prose, I want to lay myself open to be overwhelmed by the sunset and the mystery of how pollen-laden bees fly and the taste of chocolate covered strawberries and the perfume of a damask rose and the seventy-six ducklings and the magic of color-changing cuttlefish and the kindness of friends and fierce love for family.
I want to be filled to the brim and overflowing with life with more to spare just like the wine at Cana and the bread on the mountain. I want to never run out of anything good and holy. I want to know in my bones and my flesh and my soul that whatever difficult too-muchness the world dishes out is answered by the holy too-muchness of God’s lavish, creative, generative love in which I can both lose and find myself.
Last week, we read that Jesus was so busy with his healing and his teaching and his compassion that there wasn’t even time to eat. That he called his disciples away for rest but they got no rest because there was so much need among the people. And so in his love for them he kept up his work.
But today Jesus leads them all to a holy place and says, now, make the people sit down on the soft green grass in this rocky, brown wilderness, let them stop and sit and eat as much as they want. The too-muchness of their need is met by the too-muchness of the bread, and the people realize that they want this kind of life for ever.
And, oh, so do I. So do I.