Monday over Coffee: God on Deep Background

Need a Word of Encouragement?

God on Deep Background

All the President’s Men is one of my favorite films. It nudged me into journalism in high school where I began to write for the school paper. But even before my first class, and long before my first assignment, I’d already learned a thing or two from Woodward and Bernstein. "On the record" and "off the record" were easy, but I also learned what "deep background" meant. In journalism, a deep background source provides confidential contextual information on a story and can be used by the reporter, but without attribution. If you’ve seen All the President’s Men, you’ll recall this exchange in a deserted Washington D.C. parking garage between reporter Bob Woodward and his deep background source known only as Deep Throat:

Deep Throat: Follow the money.

Woodward: What do you mean…where?

Deep Throat: Oh, I can't tell you that.

Woodward: But you could tell me that.

Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I'll confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can… 

The rest of the film depicts Woodward and Bernstein chasing down leads, following this guidance received on deep background, doggedly pursuing the truth buried within the dramatic news story they’d uncovered.  

While we too would prefer clear directions and straight answers in our lives, like Woodward and Bernstein, we don’t always get that. Instead, as was the case in the film, I think God sometimes comes to us on deep background—yes, to guide and direct us, but for reasons mysterious to us, wants us to find and embrace the truth more on our own.

I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Breath by James Nestor. In it, Nestor walks the reader through the evolution of human respiration, then tells us not only do we breathe about 20,000 times a day, but that about 90% of us are doing it wrong. We breathe way too much through our mouths and not nearly deeply and slowly enough. What’s optimum for good health is to inhale deeply through one’s nose for five or six seconds, followed by a five or six second exhalation also through the nose. However, what I found most interesting of all is this particular breathing pattern is used by Buddhist monks in their mantras, in Taoist meditative practice, and historically in Christian liturgy in reciting the rosary in Latin. Long ago, in cultures as spiritually divergent as those in Japan and Africa and in Europe and Native America, human beings were developing religious practices and prayer techniques using remarkably similar slow and soul-centering breathing patterns in pursuit of transcendence. God on deep background. 

As I’ve tried recently to slow my breathing to that optimum rate and get more in sync with the possibility of God broadcasting in this way, I've noticed something else too. I have tinnitus. Tinnitus is a constant ringing in one’s ears which 15-20% of the population experiences instead of pure silence and is typically caused by age-related hearing loss or circulation issues.  My case seems minor, and while annoyingly it’s always present, it doesn’t really bother me that much. In fact, I’ve tried to reframe the moments I notice the ringing as a sort of trigger, then lean into the idea that God is resident within it. That is, just as I experience no complete silence, nothing itself does not exist. God exists. God on deep background.  

Now let’s think more cosmically: Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson were scientists at Bell Labs in New Jersey in 1964. Experimenting with a super-sensitive, twenty-foot antenna built to detect subtle radio waves bouncing off satellites, they were charged with mathematically eliminating all radiation emitted by every object in the sky. However, even after running those equations, their data suggested the presence of a mysterious, barely-detectable, residual level of radiation evenly spread throughout the sky, unassociated with any object but present both night and day. 

At almost the same time, only a few miles away, astrophysicists at Princeton studying the Big Bang reasoned that at the moment life began, not only had matter been cast throughout the universe, but radiation was also released—invisible waves of creative energy which might be theoretically detectable with the proper instrumentation. When Penzias and Wilson heard this, they realized the significance of their own discovery—the faint background glow they’d detected unassociated with any star, galaxy, satellite, or other object was this very energy spread evenly throughout the universe, a sort of voice or signature borne at the instant of creation. Everywhere. All around us. All the time. God on deep background.

God—

Are you there? I thought so. Thank you. 


Amen.

Greg Funderburk


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