Wednesday, May 18, 2016
You Can't Wear God...Unless You Can
Lauren Winner's book, titled Wearing God, was dismissed out of hand by the nine-year-old in the back seat, where the book had been languishing for several months. (I started it after hearing a presentation about faith and fashion by Clara Berg, child of my congregation and now the Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles at Seattle's MOHAI). I had tossed the book back there after reading the chapter 'Clothing' and 'Laboring Woman' - the two metaphors I was most interested in and connected to my experience.
The idea that God is ready-to-wear should be no more surprising than God being our rock and foundation,* or the light for my path** or, for that matter, laboring woman.*** As it turns out metaphor is all we have for God, who is only knowable through human experience and language. This is tricky for humans (perhaps especially young humans) who like nice concrete handles on which to hang ideas. We want to know exactly who and where God is. We like certainty to be tacked to the wall like a family photo so we can look at it and be reminded: ‘Oh that’s nice, there's my spouse, whom I love and who loves me and who is now at work just as I am at work and we'll see each other later.’ But God will not be tacked. Metaphor is what connects God to our experience and helps us to understand and get a glimpse - even if it's a small one - of God's nature and being. It helps us place God.
The nine-year-old should not have been surprised either, having recently learned about metaphors in third grade. She knows that metaphors are not a thing themselves but are a comparison that describe an aspect of the thing. In fact, she came up with God being like a cloud (to be fair: a simile, not a metaphor) when she was four! We have read books and had conversations about God's many names. At the point of the declaration, we had the conversation again. I guess we all need reminders.
We need reminders that we can wear God, who is comforts us like an old sweater. And we can dwell in God, who is our home. And we can turn our faces to the warmth of God, who is our sun. God the washing machine agitates us and starts us fresh. We experience and know God in a multitude of ways, many of which are in the Bible. And because we are human and God is God, we can each determine the best metaphor for our own experience of God, in whose image (whatever that is) we are created. What is yours?
* “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” Psalm 18:2
** “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” Psalm 119:105
*** God: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Isaiah 42:14