The children's classic "The Runaway Bunny," written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, might seem an odd place to begin a theological reflection.
"The Runaway Bunny" begins with a young bunny who decides to run away: "'If you run away,' said his mother, 'I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.'" And so begins an imaginary game of chase. No matter how many forms the little bunny takes -- a fish in a stream, a crocus in a hidden garden, a rock on a mountain -- his steadfast and protective mother finds a way of retrieving him.
For a child who has ever tested the strength of a parent's love, this story offers both reassurance and challenge.
Brown's book asks its readers how can the love of a parent for a child be explained, defined, demonstrated? The mother bunny responds to the many incarnations her child adopts, following him as he changes, not restraining his imagination while simultaneously (and doggedly) refusing to let him slip away. She changes along with him.
What do we believe? Did the ancient Israelites who authored our holy Torah, believe that God was describable, or locate-able? Perhaps an answer may be found in the dramatic and tragic moments when the Jerusalem Temples were destroyed in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. For when we were exiled from our land, carrying with us both the sights and smells of a burnt Jerusalem and the dream of one day finding home again, the rabbis created a new midrash, a new vision of God's "location." They taught that when the Jews were exiled, God's holy Presence, the Shechinah, went with them. "God adapted, morphed, changed along with us," taught the rabbis.
Deep in the soul of the Jewish people is the conviction that our "Avinu Malkeinu", our own "Mother Bunny," won't let us go. But the deepest part of this is that we've never run away. Even when we've rejected one image of God, chosen one notion of the Sacred over another, our relationship with God has remained strong. For the Torah, God is an intervening character in history. For Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, God is "the Power that makes for salvation." Definitions only accomplish so much, given their rootedness in limits of language. Words like Source, Elohim, Adonai, Spirit -- all sublime pointers -- affirm the infinite potentiality of the universe to be purposeful, to respond to the particulars of today.
I pray that we never run away from our Divine potential, that the challenge of belief is a compelling conversation we remain determined to share. May our precious communities always feel the Presence of God. And may the way we treat each other and the world around us always demonstrate the most sacred of ideals.