Finding God in the Cereal Aisle

– by Donna Owusu-Ansah

At the time I am writing this, my daughters—six and four—are playing with wooden blocks. It is one of those beautiful moments where they are playing together, scheming together, dreaming together and building together. They are using their minds and hearts and hands. Imaginations are running wild. They are putting their thoughts into actions, failing and trying again and again and again and again. They are laughing. There are moments of silence. Together. And this is a joy to witness. It is a holy endeavor. Their blocks have become something beyond the wooden squares that they were manufactured to be.

My husband would look at them and say, “Oh. They’re just playing blocks.”

I see something more.

And this is the task of the prophet—whether one who preaches, one who writes, one who dances, one who creates visual masterpieces, one who teaches, or one who organizes and protests. To see beyond the present reality to fashion a world that embodies, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven[1] The prophet is one who sees beyond sight, until that sight becomes seen and experienced by all.

In all likelihood, I have probably been seeing beyond sight all of my life, as I have been a writer and visual artist all of my life. However, I formally learned to see beyond sight as a student at the Theological School at Drew University. During my tenure at Drew, there was a January Intensive course offered titled, “Ministry and Imagination” taught by Rev. Dr. Heather Elkins and Rev. Dr. N. Lynne Westfield. I quickly recognized that our instructors were women who saw beyond sight. (After my first course, I took every course they offered together.) In Ministry and Imagination we were stretched to do heavy theological reflection beyond textbooks. I can recall one January when Heather and Lynne convened class at a snow covered cemetery. An unusual, but appropriate place to gather and meditate on the Apostles Creed: he descended to the dead. Some sat silently at tombstones, breathing deeply, listening. Some read, piecing together stories of lives in poetry and prose. Some painted on the snow with clover, salmon, and plum colored sand—a reminder of how fleeting life is. We honored the dead, but also with sight beyond what our eyes could see, imagined the rest of the creed— the dead rising and resting eternally in the presence of God.

Heather has a unique way of seeing beyond sight. I often joke that she could take you to the supermarket and you would find God in the cereal aisle. What I mean was that Heather has a penchant for seeing the holy in every day life. She has a seeing beyond sight. And through her be-ing, she inspired me, and a host of others, to open our eyes to God, not just on Sunday morning in church, but everywhere. Everywhere. This was new for me, as I came from a traditional and religiously conservative African-American church that mostly relegated God to a Sunday morning, inside the stained glass windows, kind of experience. There was a clear distinction made between sacred and secular. So, when God was seen outside the stained glass windows it was mostly in what would have been categorized as holy, sacred, and sanctified. But these distinctions didn’t sit well with me. I identified with the Psalmist’s questions in Psalm 139, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”[2] I riff with the Psalmist, “If I play blocks with my daughters, you are there; if I dance, shimmy, and shake as Beyonce trills in the background, you are there. If I listen to the wisdom of cocoa-skinned gray haired sisters, if I protest the unjust killing of black and brown people at the hands of police, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”[3] In other words, if I ascribe to the doctrine that God is omnipresent, and I do, then why wouldn’t God be in the cereal aisle?

We find God in the cereal aisle. We experience the holy mystery amid the whole grained goodness. We see beyond the sight of the fluorescent lights and perfectly lined cardboard boxes. And then we hear it, “Clean up on aisle three!”

We are back to reality and the cereal boxes become just that. Ordinary cereal boxes.

In her book, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey through Silence and Doubt, Renita Weems focuses a chapter on the Christian liturgical season known as ordinary time. She writes, “The mystery is presumably over. The ordinary resumes. And believing hearts are left to grapple for themselves with the silence of God. Or so it seems, that God is silent. Perhaps it’s humans who are speechless for those thirty weeks.”[4]

Ordinary cereal boxes. Ordinary time. Where is God?

As I learned in Ministry and Imagination, God is present everywhere. Even in the seemingly mundane and banal, the Holy mystery endures. However, often in these moments hopelessness and apathy can set in when silence and speechlessness carry on for too long. This is why I write. I write to remind myself and my readers of the beauty that lies beyond what the eye can see. I write because the adage, “no news is good news” does not ring true and we need good news—the prophet Isaiah declared it and Jesus reclaimed that declaration. I write because the rhetoric of our day is far louder than the silence and speechlessness, and our world needs words beyond what it hears and sight beyond what it sees.


[1] Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

[2] Psalm 139:7 (NIV)

[3] My interpretation of Psalm 139:8-10

[4] Renita J. Weems, Listening for God: A Ministers Journey Through Silence and Doubt (New York: Touchstone Books, 1999), 64.