Maybe it’s just the business I’m in. Every industry has its vernacular, it’s jargon. Kenneth Cole talks about fashion and likely, profit margins. Apple talks about plastic and glass and China. Barack Obama is talking about the State of the Union, so I get it.
The thing is in my business I’m supposed to talk about God. I mean that’s pretty ambitious, right? I kind of understand talking to God (capital G) because in a long way not a one of us need a degree or a history or a pedigree to do that. Little kids do it, elderly folks do it and even atheists unwittingly do it sometimes. I even think it happens without us realizing it.
Talking to this higher power (as perhaps you use a different name to identify he/she/it) can be, ought to be simple and as plain as breathing. If it’s any more than that I have likely complicated the matter.
It’s in the talking about God that I’m starting to run into a wall. We of the cloth/the robe/the suit or any uniform serving to demarcate our sacred insights make it our business to talk about this God with such luminescence. How is it that our insights, our authority into these matters are often rooted in acquiescence to a particular moral code or social construct rather than a quest for truth, goodness and beauty? To speak for and about this supreme power the Tibetan monk, the protestant pastor, muslim cleric or jewish rabbi will all resort to the same tactics and tools. We scan the landscape for popular ways to talk about God and then refashion those ways to restate the same cultural mores and values. There are no good questions anymore, only answers.
We all eventually become Job’s friends and shoot universal truths from the hip, our listeners more our targets rather than our fellow sojourners. The tribal gods love this god-talk wrapped in its mysterious and magisterial jargon. We’re still doing our rain dances.
Human language is both gift and curse. It is beautiful God-gift from above in the ways that noun and verb frame a continuum for the human experience and condition. ‘Loneliness’ is just a word but how universal a word it is. Words capture our joys, aches and pains for the next generation to know they were never alone. Words help us not to forget.
Human language is curse in that our imaginations can sometimes be bounded by it. At times I am scared to even talk about a thing because I feel like once I do I am wrapping it up in my periphery. What is infinite quickly becomes finite as it passes through my lips. This is why I won’t talk about all my dreams because the moment I do the images fade like distant stars and my optimism is choked by reality.
Yet there is still pleasure to be had. I’m grateful for my pastor, Jonathan Martin, who instead is constantly provoking my optimism with eyes wide open. He tweets, “The sea in us is vast & tumultuous, but full of treasures. The beauty we see in others is lost at sea if we do not excavate-that is, speak” and “The joy of being human is not just in beholding beautiful things around you, but in the naming of them. I’m applying for Adam’s job.”
Recently, someone in a well-intentioned but equally pompous manner told me that “God has a plan for my life”. While I don’t entirely disagree with this notion I don’t mind telling you that I’m not wrestling with the plan. The plan is far more fluid than some of us would like to think anyways. I’m wrestling with the God behind the plan. I am at sea, having left the island. I am both excavating and being excavated. The old tactics and tools don’t work out here anymore.
The pope just resigned and ardent catholic theologian Stephen Colbert satirically, almost angrily tweets, “It’s Ash Wednesday– and we all know what the pope gave up for Lent!” Could I love the poet Colbert anymore? The pope, however, isn’t just giving up his seat. He’s identifying what some of us might have suspected for some time. He is at sea with the rest of us.
The challenge of Lent isn’t to give up something you like. Don’t reduce it to that. It’s to create the space and time to rediscover truth, goodness and beauty. It’s to anticipate ultimate beauty really. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that theology is thus art and graffiti speaks wisdom. I’m allowing myself to know, find and even name God in new ways. I have a paddle and all I know to say right now is that I’m soaked from the sea spray, burnt from the blazing sun and happier than I’ve ever been.
No rain dance required either.