Several weeks ago, when I was visiting with my daughter and three-year-old grandson, we went whale-watching off the coast of New Jersey. Of course, we didn’t see any whales, but we saw lots of dolphins, and they were magnificent! So sleek and graceful! The little one was quite taken with them, and, with a gleam in his eyes and moving his upper extremities to simulate the movement of the dolphins, proclaimed, “They’re my girls–they like me!” Now, we could just write that proclamation off as a three-year-old’s narcissism–but could it be something more? I like to think of his words as a sign of the breakthrough in the evolution of consciousness that so many people are talking about. Is it possible that a tiny little boy is aware of his connection with dolphins? I think so–and I hope so. And I hope that awareness doesn’t stop with dolphins!
There are a lot of bloody passages in scripture–mostly in the Old Testament–but our gospel reading from this past Sunday strikes me as the bloodiest! If I were British I would say that it’s bloody bloody! Jesus is talking to crowds and is trying to make sure his message about who he is gets across to them, so he uses vivid language. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me” (John 6:53-57). How are we to understand this message? What does it say about the Eucharist? We could ponder the meaning for a lifetime. What does the Eucharist mean to you? There is no one correct answer. We invite you to respond!
It goes without saying that we are completely dependent on the language of metaphor to be able to communicate with any clarity. Often we overuse certain metaphors to the extent that they lose some of their power. For example, think about the expression “like a fish out of water.” We’ve used these words so often that they have come to simply refer to a feeling of awkwardness or discomfort in a strange situation. But, think about the fish that has just between caught—the fish that is flopping around on a dock or pier, or in the floor of a boat. That fish is not awkward or uncomfortable. That fish is desperate—quickly dying! I get a little short of breath just thinking about that scene!
There are times when we search around for different metaphors for describing what we understand about God or the human relationship with God. In his book The Experience of God, Raimon Panikkar speaks of how human beings are surrounded by God like fish are surrounded by water. We are “drenched” in God as fish are drenched in water. The problem is that we don’t recognize or we forget that we are drenched. We forget that God is that fully present with us—longing for us to know how completely we are incorporated into God’s own being. When we forget, we may find ourselves flopping around and feeling desperate—like a fish out of water.
If we accept “God is love” as our most basic truth of who God is, then what? How do we accept God’s truth as our reality–so we can live it? Probably by listening rather than talking–to God, that is–listening for that voice that says, “You are my Beloved.” Hint–the key is in letting go of all the other competing voices. It may be the hardest work we will ever do, but worth every bit of the effort.
Last week, I shared some musings about the possibility that no two of us share exactly the same concept of God–that our beliefs are uniquely shaped by what we have been taught and what we have experienced. I worked in the mental health field for many years and came to know countless people who could not believe–maybe even refused to try to believe–that “God is love.” Their experience gave them the opposite message, and that opposite message became their truth. Their souls were imprisoned by a lie. The story has been told many times of the great twentieth century theologian and prolific writer, Karl Barth, who, when he was once asked to give a brief summary of his personal faith, responded, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It all boils down to, “God is love.”
We are all “theologians.” Actually that’s hyperbole–most of us are theologians. That means that we think about God a lot, and some of us even study about God a lot. Thousands and thousands of books have been written about the subject of God over the millenia, and maybe we’ve read some of them. We also talk to God–in various ways–and we seem to think we know who we are talking to. Our culture is permeated with God-talk. But the thought comes to me–and I don’t think I’ve ever heard this expressed in so many words–“Is it possible that all of our individual physiology, all of our differing life experiences, and all of those things that we’ve heard or read or been taught, have blended together and given each of us our own slightly unique “picture” of God?” Wow, that would give us lots of room for misunderstanding. Just thinking.