In the words of our ancestors as they grappled to tell the story of the Divine Mystery we call God, it is written. “Then God spoke all these words, and said, “I AM YAHWEH who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Do not worship any gods except me! Do not make for yourselves any carved mage or likeness of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters of the earth, and do not bow down to them or serve them! For I, YAHWEH, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:1-5)
Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun and brilliant theologian, tells a story about a little girl named Katie who was a second-grader in one of the schools of Chittister’s community. One Friday during art class as the teacher roamed the aisles checking progress, she stopped at Katie’s desk and asked, “Well, Katie, what are you drawing?” “I am drawing a picture of God,” Katie said proudly. “Katie,” the teacher answered, “you can’t draw a picture of God. Nobody knows what God looks like.” Katie said, “They will when I’m finished.”
I never was much good at drawing, but like little Katie I to have tried my hand at creating an image of God. For me my image making really took off when I wasn’t much older than little Katie. I must have been about nine or ten years old when my dreams came true one Christmas morning and I became the proud owner of a microscope. At the time I was convinced that my microscope was the most sophisticated tool ever designed. It came in it’s own wooden box and I distinctly remember the metal clasp on that box had a small clasped that was designed to allow a pad lock to slip through so that the box could be safely secured from less sophisticated explorers like my little brother from opening it to reveal the splendor of a tool that could turn its owner into a scientist. Along with my microscope came a box of small glass slides, an eyedropper and a sample jar. My father explained to me that we could go to a local pond to collect our samples. Dad assured me that a small jar of pond-water would contain enough samples to keep me busy for days. Dad was absolutely correct and I spent many an afternoon squinting into my microscope, painstakingly adjusting the focus so that I could get just the right magnification to see the wonders of a miniature world of creatures I had never before even dreamed existed. I was an explorer of pond scum. I was a scientist, enthralled by the tiny little world, wondering in amazement a splendor of creation. I marveled at the tiny creatures that swam franticly in and out of my view. I sometimes pretended that I was their Queen and who with godlike powers could scoop them up out of their native pond home and deliver them to my royal laboratory and command them to dance for me. And dance they would, providing hours and hours of entertainment for me and in return I lavished such care and attention on their little world. Sadly, for reasons beyond my control, their little lives always came to an end after just a few days as the pond water became even too rancid for my little subjects. But I was a benevolent monarch and rather than flush their little worlds down the toilet, I would always travel back to the pond from which they came and with great dignity and more than a little ceremony dump the foul smelling evidence of their watery demise back into the waters of their birth. I remember thinking that God too must be just as dignified when He, back then it was definitely He, attended our funerals, for God had been watching over us in much the same way as I watched my little creatures.
Although my early images of our Creator might have been somewhat primitive, I have continued over the years to refine and perfect them until God morphed into a more engaged director who tended me with the kind of care only a mother can give, and who hovered just beyond my grasp, tending to my needs, and disappointing me only for my own good, waiting patiently for me to do the right thing and change the world for the better. Over the decades my images of God have become only slightly more sophisticated. I’m sure that everyone could reach back into their memories and find images of God that they have worshipped over the years. Images that in our minds we know are but pale imitations of the creator of all that is, and yet images that for one reason and another we have worshipped, adored, loved, feared, been frustrated by and in some cases clung to for dear life. Many of the images that we worship have been given to us by the stories our ancestors told, the things we learned in Sunday school, the dogmas of the church, the traditions of our culture, and the school of hard knocks which have refined our image over the years and in some cases continue to demand our loyalty. And there’s the rub. Because as harmless as creating images of the Divine Mystery may be, all too often we have contented ourselves with worshipping our images and thereby turning our crude images of the Divine into idols and us into idol worshippers; idol worshippers who are all too willing to fight and indeed sometimes to die for the sake of preserving our idols.
All too often, our journey from our own safe little ponds into the big bad oceans in which we swim has confronted us with the hollowness of our idols. These days many of us have ventured into the ocean of science only to discover that the idol god of our own creation is in light of all that we have learned about the cosmos somewhat impotent, powerless and unworthy of our worship. Others of us have experienced the smashing of the idols we worship and have resolved never again to risk loving what we cannot know. Sure it was fine to create images and idols in the ignorance of the dark ages that went before our birth, but we live in the information age and we know so much more than our ancestors could ever know. We are searching through the evidence and postulating theories about our own creation. We may not yet know the all the details but we remain convinced that the big bang lies at the beginning of all that is and not our image of a Father-god, declaring “Let there be light”. We are sophisticated, thinking, informed and realistic 21st century creatures who since Darwin first postulated our evolution from the apes have gone on to understand that all life may have evolved from a single cell. Darwin’s theory of evolution has opened us to the possibility that all of creation may be evolving by some grand trial and error experiment that not even the most sophisticated scientists of by-gone eras could have begun to imagine.
In this the information age, when we stand on the cusp of creating computers who can not only think faster and smarter than we can think but who if the pundits are to believed will soon be able to feel; in this age of exploration beyond our own wildest dreams, super conductors are about to reveal the origins of the universe and folks in laboratories are exploring new theories of nano science that will one day unlock the secrets of our DNA so that we may one day conquer death. Try as we might we can no longer compartmentalize our understanding of science and religion. The images we have worshipped for centuries are as worthy of our worship and praise as the golden calves of old were of our ancestors devotion. When our idols meet science, our idols are smashed into a million pieces, because the reality of creation; the stupendous reality of the cosmos reveals that our images of the Divine are pale reflections of the power and majesty of what lies at the heart of reality.
So, what are we to do when science and religion meet? Are we to abandon one or the other? Sadly, some of our fellow companions on this cosmic journey have chosen one over the other. Some have rejected science in favour of clinging to their idols. Some have rejected religion in favour of science and while they imagine that science lies at the heart of reality they find it difficult to comprehend what force lies beyond their ability to imagine and are forced into a kind of denial that in and of itself becomes the object of their devotion and leaves them worshipping an idol of their own design. Our plight in this information age is not unlike the plight of the Ancient Hebrews, as we too wander in the wilderness dreaming of the promised land. Searching for a home we have never known.
Joan Chittister tells another story. It’s the story of a Sufi master who was found scratching through the sand in the middle of the road. “What are you doing?” some pilgrims asked the Sufi as they passed. The old Sufi looked up and said, “I’m looking for my treasure. I’ve lost it.” the old man said. So the pilgrims, good people all dropped to their knees to help. They sifted sand. They dug under stones. They sweat under the waxing midday sun. Until, finally, hungry, soaking wet and exhausted, one of the travellers asked of the Sufi , “Sufi, are you sure you lost your treasure here?” And the old man said, “Oh, no. No, I didn’t loose my treasure here, I lost it over there on the other side of those mountains.” The pilgrims looked at him with a kind of a growing, creeping despair and said, “Well if you lost it on the other side of the mountains, why in the name of Ala are you searching for it here?” And the old man said, “I’m looking for it hear because there is more light here.”
Chittister insists that each of us must ask ourselves, “Where in our search for God in the 21st century can we look for light on the path? Many of us lost God way over there beyond the mountains of the Big Bang Theory and Darwin’s theory of Evolution. Many of us are still searching for God back there in the darkness of our unknowing, unwilling to look for God in the light that is being shone upon our existence by the information that is being generated by science. Many of us are unwilling to search for God in the light. Some of us are like the pilgrims, who never in their wildest dreams would have imagined looking for God in the light of all that we have learned about the reality of our existence.
The good news is that even our ancestors understood that loving God with all that we are includes our minds. Jesus, like the wisdom teachers who went before him insisted that, “You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:25-28)
It is not necessary to check our brains at the door as we search for God. Science, indeed all that we have learned about our existence on the spinning planet in this wondrous universe, in this awesome cosmos, knowledge, is the light that shines lighting the path of the wise. It’s time to stop looking for God over there beyond the mountains of the Big Bang and Evolution. It’s time to look for God right here in the light of this place and this time. The fact that nothing we know about science now equates with what we have told ourselves about God, does not mean that there is no god. It does mean, that our definitions of God framed in the past, have left us blind to the multiple dimensions of God that we have missed. Our images of God are incomplete and like the golden calves of old, are not worthy of our worship.
The good news is we can let our idols shatter into a million pieces and our God will not perish. Today, in the light of all that we have learned, we are all invited now to draw a new picture of God. These new pictures that we draw will enable us to participate in the ever evolving universe in which we live and move and have our being, trusting that our God permeates our existence in ways we have only begun to imagine. The images we create of God in the light of all that we have learned about reality, will always run the risk of become idols that we worship.
So as we drawn new pictures of God, let us remember all the little Katies, Abduls, Indira’s, Mai Lings, Alexi’s, Fatima’s and Benjamin’s will also be drawing their pictures of God. Do not let the mountains of knowledge darken our images by drawing in their shadows. Let us move into the light that shines from the wisdom of the ages and the unknown wonders of the future. Let our images of the Divine Mystery of God move us beyond idolatry toward a deeper relationship with the One, who is, was, and ever more shall be, the Creator of cosmic proportions, who cradles us with tenderness and compassion.
And for know let us remember who we are and whose we are and as we draw our pictures remember O mortals God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YAHWEH needs from us: “simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.” (Micah 6:8)