by Barbara Glasson.
It is very irksome to have been grounded. I am deeply indignant; I do not feel that I have done anything so outrageous as to warrant being put on the naughty step for an indeterminate length of time. I reflect, that ‘being grounded’ was not a strategy that my parents had in their punitive kitbag. The biggest sanction I recall them having was ‘being ashamed’ as in ‘you really should be ashamed of yourself for crayoning on the piano’. But, as a punishment, ‘being grounded’ has become more prevalent, it seems to involve all kinds of levels of solitary confinement and restrictions to movement depending on the level of the offense. To be isolated from others and from our freedom to move about is indeed a miserable thing.
This phrase ‘being grounded’ has taken this recent trajectory of punishment by confinement but it also has a quite different and parallel connotation. ‘Being grounded’ is a phrase used by therapists to help people through panic attacks. It is used by clergy to centre us in prayer. It is used by mental health services to keep patients in touch with reality. It is not about punishment at all but about a feet on the turf existential reality check. Literally, putting us back in touch with the ground. If I think about this use of the phrase then I think of physical reality, of my feet on the solid surface of the earth, I can feel it through the soles of my feet, this firm and steady place, this present moment.
Currently, in the face of Covid-19 we live these two meanings at the same time, We are both confined in our movements but also back in touch with the place on which we stand; we can do no other!
For the theologian Paul Tillich there was a tension between God as ‘presence’ and God as ‘ground’. And maybe this tension is useful to revisit right now. The thing about ‘ground’ is that is a place of assurance, it is a place to stand still, to be ‘rooted and grounded’. It is an anchor point, something that underlies everything else, it is firm. Which is curious because to ‘be ground’ is to be mashed into a lot of little bits, such are the mysteries of the English language! I digress.
To think of God as ‘ground’ as opposed to ‘presence’ is to move God away from analogies with human foibles and uncertainties. God becomes part of existence, the reliable substrate of life. God underpins everything and centres us differently in relation to the earth. And, whilst I personally don’t want to relinquish the sense of God as ‘presence’ I am also reassured and fortified by a sense of God being the ‘ground’.
I have recently discovered a book by Edmund Newell, The Sacramental Sea in which he explores the relationship between humanity and ‘The Deep’.[i] He draws initially on the book of Genesis, in which he reminds us that when God made the world the Deep was already there as dark, primal chaos. In Genesis 1:9 we read, ‘Then God said, let the water under the sky come together in one area, and let dry ground appear’. So the dry ground is the antithesis of the chaos, the ground is the place on which God will position the whole of creation, it is declared good,
So, to be ‘grounded’ is not simply a good psychological tool or centring device in a metaphorical sense, it is to be centred firmly on the holiness of God’s loving purposes for the world. When we are grounded in the presence of the Divine (however we want to describe this) God’s presence is not arbitrary, it is the core of who we are, it is our very being.
‘Being rooted and grounded in love’ as the writer of the letter to the Ephesians reminds us, (Ephesians 4: 17) is to be given the gift of comprehending the width and depth of God’s love for us. To be grounded, is to be held in the sure and certain foundations of God’s grace.
This is not to dismiss the punitive nature of being grounded, because surely the reason for our present predicament is within our shared humanity’s neglect of the natural balance and order of the Earth. But it is to say, that if we can find our relationship with the Creator to be the place where we stand, then maybe a new perspective and a new sense of grace might come as gift?
[i] Edmund Newell, The Sacramental Sea: A Spiritual Voyage through Christian History, (2019, London: DLT)