premise: the world is a sacrament. A sacrament is a visible reality IN and THROUGH which we see the spiritual. Literalism cannot easily fathom sacraments because they include mystery, symbolism, myth and metaphor.
Science tells us that there is more to the world than meets the eye. Physics and biology show us that there are micro-worlds. Cosmology reminds us that we are a small dot in an unimaginably large place. I think that there is also spiritual dimensions to our daily lives. Why not? A composite of molecules plays piano, does book-keeping or pitches a baseball. Is it so crazy to think that composite of oxygen, hydrogen, etc. is also able to think, to dream, to choose, to pray?
So how does God (pure spirit) interact with people (matter and spirit)? First of all, there must be something about concrete, material reality which allows it to interact with spiritual reality. Human beings are biological machines. Brains function. Yet there is ample evidence that minds exist as well. How can a spiritual thing like a mind work in and through a physical organ like a brain? Well, it is a mystery. A literalist mindset, such as Naturalism (also called Positivism, Scientism, or Materialism; this is the atheist explanation), thinks that everything that cannot be explained without mystery is hogwash. They lived in a closed world of pure material explanations.
But what if what is true of humans (body and soul) is true of the world? What if the material universe is also open to spiritual influence? It would not be something that could be seen or measured. Weighing dying bodies to see how much the soul weighs misses the point that souls are immaterial. Spiritual things cannot be seen or weighed because they are immaterial. But what if there were a way for a spiritual force to effect the material realm. As a proponent and practioner of prayer I obviously believe it does. As a proponent and practioner of the healing ministry I have seen what looks like numerous examples of this force at work. As a counselor and care giver I have seen what looks like dark forces at work.
Now if the world is the kind of place where "spiritual things" can be at work in "material things" then the way God is present in the world can truly be said to be "in and through." Manifestations of God in the bible are frequently described as fire, (dark) cloud, loud trumpets and, of course, Elijah's still quiet. Are these descriptions meant to point to an inexpressable experience? Is God fire? or mist? Why does God use fire to manifest His presence? Is that what happens when God intensifies His presence among us? Or is it a useful way to let us see something (rather than nothing)? Fire purifies, it destroys. Dark clouds befuddle. There is a deeper mystery at work and we are called to reflect on what these experiences are conveying to us. But, clearly, if the INVISIBLE God wants to be manifest, it is IN and THROUGH the visible. And when we talk about God doing something, the best we can say is "it is LIKE this" or "it is LIKE that." So the way God works in the world is based on the kind of world that is. With that in mind, then when we look for God, it is best to see the world as a window (a stained glass window!!!) and be open to Him Who stands behind (and above, and below) all that we see. I will get a bit more churchy next time as we investigate a sacramental world view.