My friend Darren sent me the image below. It reminds him of the journey I’m trying to talk about in this blog. Most of us have had trying experiences in our lives that have left us feeling at least depleted, if not completely broken. Most of us rise from the ashes in some form or another. How we rise is a story that I find fascinating. I never tire of hearing recovery stories.
Kinturkuroi. This is the Japanese art of repairing a broken vessel. I think it’s even more beautiful after restoration than it was before it was broken, in its unscathed state. In its broken state it is without function or beauty. The gold lines that pull the pieces back together actually make the bowl stronger than it was before. What a beautiful image.
In the Christian narrative there seem to be many images of God to choose from. None of them, on their own, are complete or accurate but we keep trying to find an analogy from the human experience to help us understand God or parts of God’s character.
I’m uncomfortable with some of the analogies but in most of them I can find some meaning. For example, I’m not that excited about warfare imagery. God as warrior, conqueror, makes me bristle. You may say, and you’d be right, that this is because I’m not a fan of war. You might accuse me of being a wuss and a bleeding heart liberal. To that I would say, thank you. Yes I am. However, I can make peace with this imagery in some cases. If the warrior God is one who comes to the defense of those without hope and those who are powerless to the injustice of the powerful and selfish, then yes, I’m all for God the warrior.
The problem is that when we start to apply terms that we mostly reserve for severe acts of aggression or force it takes us a step closer to where the Tea Party finds itself. It’s an insidious trail down a path that starts with Defender of the Victims and ends up some sort of Christian Militant God-is-on-our-side-as-we-employ-whatever-means-necessary-to-erraticate-the-heretic-of-the-day. The warrior God is on our side because we are on the side of Good. Right?
Then there’s the CEO God. He’s the one who rationally and coolly runs the universe (yes, the pronoun was intentional). Doling out big jobs, little tasks, blessings and curses, life and death, decisions about where miracles will be granted and where they will not. He’s the one in control and depending on who you speak to, he is either a distant CEO who doesn’t have time for us and our little problems or a micromanager who wants us to consult him with every single decision.
There’s the hippie God, the one who sent his hippie Son. He wears robes and is guru-like. There’s always a confounding wise word on his lips, often a riddle. He loves everyone and walks around blessing people and making them happy and whole. The children love him. Prostitutes, thieves, drunks and sinners of all kinds love him. The religious people who like their answers neat and tidy and their beliefs all squared up nicely, not so much. For the record…I love this one. I know, you’re shocked.
I think there are likely as many images of God as there are people. Loving, angry, powerful, weak, holy, righteous, personable, indifferent, near and far. We have a way of creating God in our image or in the image of our fathers, or in the image we’d like to believe in or the image we’d like blame. We have no other choice. We’re a mixed bag of memories, experiences, training and indoctrination and we’re left to the devices of our thoughts and imagination to sort it out. I know some (Christians) will say that we’re not left to those devices because we have the bible to tell us what God is like but most of the images I played with above can be nicely supported…and refuted…by that same bible. To me that means, we’re back to our mixed bag of humanness and imagination. None of the images above are complete of course, not even my Hippie friend.
One image of God I can wholeheartedly embrace is Redeemer. I don’t believe that following the path of God means that nothing bad will ever happen to us. That may seem obvious and you may think ‘no one believes that!’ But many do. That’s why when something bad happens to them, they are shocked and ask God ‘why is this happening to me? Why did you let it happen to me?’ The best time to have some rational thoughts about God’s involvement in our lives is not during a crisis. Clarity is not easy to come by when we’re in a pressure cooker. I do have to wonder though if our true thoughts bubble to the surface when life has us at boiling point.
God the redeemer. This one doesn’t take any theological gymnastics. I think the bible is full of examples and themes of redemption. We can’t control the bad things. They’re part of life. I don’t know if God can control them but if you try to make a case that He does then you’re into some real theological gymnastics. Let’s just say, I can’t change whatever the truth is about whether God is in control or not. (This means I need to do a post on prayer right? Is that the wall I just slammed into?)
After the bad thing has happened, after life has eroded our joy or dealt us some blows, what then?
What happens next is the interesting part. Our responses and the magic of employing spiritual principles are what I find amazing.
The transforming power of Spirit to put us back together, to heal our souls, to redeem the situation, to make good things come from bad, to make us deeper and more compassionate, this I believe is one of God’s specialties.
It requires our full cooperation. We need to do our part. Yielding instead of fighting, forgiving instead of holding grudges, getting our ego out of the way and choosing love instead of hate. Doing the inner work is like preparing a greenhouse in winter. Covering the structure, laying the beds and preparing the soil, removing rocks, ignoring the harsh winds and cold temperatures, resisting discouragement and hopelessness and clinging to hope. Having faith enough to put seeds in the ground when it looks like there’s a very real possibility they’ll die there. That’s what faith is. That’s what faith in Goodness and the tenacity of Life looks like.
We can’t control life though. We can’t control growth. We can’t control other people (the ones we forgive and what they do with that). The life that grows from there is a mystery. To continue with my analogy, whether the sun comes out or not is not up to us, whether the seeds germinate or not is not up to us, if the plants become strong and healthy and beautiful…we cannot control. That’s the mystery and the wonder of Life. That’s the part where we sit back and wait, in peace, with faith, watching and hoping for a miracle. The time the seeds spend under the ground in darkness takes time and tries our faith.
In the meantime we keep waking up in the morning, making coffee, and dinner and cleaning the toilet and going to work and doing the best we can, and wait.
In my experience what is planted grows. By some miracle of Nature it grows. Sometimes it even grows quickly. Sometimes it’s even better than what was planted. It’s part human input and part Divine infusion. Or, in the case of our vessel analogy, Divine Fusion.
May the God of the miracle of spiritual Kinturkuroi hold you together today.