Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Assignment #1

"This is how you are to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." How does your image of God affect how you approach God in prayer?

And herein lies a major reason for the taking of this course – the grappling with technicalities. After all, God is big, broad, abstract; uncontainable in any single word, concept, or image; so far beyond anything that we can imagine; powerful and knowledgeable beyond that which the mind can grasp. How does one put human words to that?

And yet, if one has no concept as to who is being addressed, then how does one even know there is an “other” being addressed? What makes words randomly cast out into the vast unknown any different than words directed to a vast unknown? Does the mere mention of a name render that distinction? I can’t imagine so. After all, if I’m sitting in my room by myself and I suddenly call out “Gretchen”, my college roommate does not suddenly materialize before me, nor is she even aware of what I’ve said after her name. Likewise, if God is always there, simply saying the word doesn’t change his presence or status. Besides, isn’t God always listening?

And God IS always present, God IS always listening. My requesting some ears doesn’t make them any more present than my not saying anything leads to their absence. Nor does my following “God” with some announcement of the latest student antics tell him anything he didn’t know before. It’s like telling someone to drive safe – “Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that. I was actually contemplating getting into a three-car pile-up, but since you’ve put it that way…” – my asking God to take care of someone doesn’t suggest anything brilliantly new.

There’s the old line about how “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us” … which then would lead to the question of what makes prayer different than thoughts; what makes talking to God different than talking to oneself; what makes the distinction between God “responding” and one’s own thoughts.

In terms of an image of God … I have this photograph I took in Appalachia a few years back, of the sun setting over the mountain lake. The sun is not directly visible, and yet it is obvious that the sun is there, from both the rays and the reflection. I had a student once say that “God is like a puzzle, but we can’t tell what the picture is because we all are the pieces.” Neither image lends itself to a conversational target, and yet both speak to an incontestable entity permeating throughout all aspects of life.

The absence of words does not imply an absence of spirit, nor does an absence of comprehension imply an absence of faith. I often think that “persistence has got to count for something”, that it’s the attempt that counts; yet, oftentimes, the attempt gets negated and dismissed as “just words”. A struggle that occasionally disappears into the woodwork, but more often inspires a self-proclaimed attitude of fakerness and hypocrisy.

And so I enter into this course: an attempt to return the self-imposed hypocrisy to the woodwork, and to infuse the sense of innocence back into my spirit.

To quote Madeleine L’Engle: Who is this creator to whom I cry out, “Help!” How can I believe in a God who cares about individual lives on one small and unimportant planet? I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I cannot turn away from the hope and the mystery which can never be understood. I know only that when I cry out, “Help!” the fact that I am crying out affirms that somewhere in some part of me I hope that there is someone who hears, who cares. The One I cry out to is not limited by size or number, and can be glimpsed only in metaphor, that chief tool off imagery of the poet. And it is only in the high language of poetry that anything can be said about God.

And so I try … if nothing else, to remind myself not to turn away from the hope, even if the mystery seems too great. And thus I enter this new round of study.


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Mary Beth said...

So interesting. Thanks for sharing as you begin this!