The God of Reflections
I recently posted an article on a Christian forum looking to form a fellowship of people for who recognise that the spiritual roots of the ideals of brotherhood run far deeper than tradition. Unsurprisingly, this article attracted all manner of turbulent souls whose whole purpose seems to be dedicated to being Trolls for Jesus. The thread was dragged down into the dark deeps of acrimony, self righteous assertions, theological arrogance, and the sort of holier-than-thou bull that I was looking to avoid. To be fair, after a couple of posts folks didn’t bother reading the original message. They responded with gusto to comments made by others and derailed the thread. I expected this but I did secretly hope that the unexpected might occur.
This got me thinking about religion, about tradition versus experience; about the different types of knowing God, the theoretical and the experiential.
I can write here about a kiss, a dinner, a sunset, a flower. I can write about a cure for an ailment or hot sex, about a car, or swimming. I can, through writing, create reflections of that about which I write but no matter how well I write the reflection will never, ever, ever, be the object reflected. I can write a mouth watering review of a fabulous meal that I enjoyed but it will not fill your belly. I can tell you about my beautiful home but it will not keep you warm or the rain from over your head. And no matter what I write, no matter how well I write it, what I write will never be more than a reflection, it will always lack that most irreplaceable of all dimensions, the actual experience that was the inspiration from whence the reflection was contrived.
We write about our experiences. We reflect on our insights and values but the things that we write are not co-incidental with the object of our inquiry. The same holds for religious or spiritual experience. I can write about God but that which I write is not God, it is only a reflection – even one seen ‘as through a glass, darkly’. I can write about Jesus but that creation is merely a reflection and a reflection is never a flawless or replete portrayal, it always lacks; it is always so much less than. I can take a photo of my friend but the photo is not my friend. The significance of this fact seems lost on many religionists.
At best a reflection will possess the aroma of truth, in Christian parlance, will be quickened by the spirit of truth and this spiritual presence of truth is what lends authenticity to a reflection. However, theoretical experts confuse reflections with the objects reflected; confound the photo with the friend. They think that the spirit of truth has somehow become imprisoned in the forms. Consequently, these manmade creations - these reflections – are seen to be invested with divine attributes [like infallibility] – in essence they become totems and the worshippers of these totems, whether they realise it or not, are idolaters. They are idolaters because they worship, fight for, and would even sacrifice their fellows to preserve this manmade object of their devotion.
Tradition can never be more than the object and the experience that inspired it. Tradition can never be more than a reflection. It may be more or less blessed with the spirit of truth, depending largely on the spiritual genius of the diarists. But in the hands of the spiritually blind it is no more than a weapon that divides. The children of God are peace makers, are forgiving, tolerant, and humble. They strive not with their fellows and look only to establish unity, for they know: God is unity.
It has always seemed to me that it’s better to have God and no tradition than to have tradition and no God. The personal experience of knowing God - experiential knowledge - is infinitely more to be preferred than mere knowledge about God - theoretical knowledge. It is an astounding spiritual tragedy that there are people that are experts in tradition but don’t actually know God. While on the other hand, marvel of marvels, there are people that actually know God but don’t know jack about tradition.
This parable best illustrates my point. There was once two people that grew up in the same town but, as circumstances would have it had never encountered one another. The years fly by and both end up travelling the world. As Fate would have it the two ended up in a town on the far side of the world. While out with friends one evening one overhears the conversation of the other and is electrified with the recognition of ‘HOME’ and strikes up a conversation. They quickly learn that they used frequent the same places but at slightly different times. They know the same schools and stores; have heard of the same local heroes. They have never met but they recognise that they both come from the same place and are heartened to meet a friendly face at the far side of the world.
Also in the bar, is another person; one that has never visited the land from whence our two heroes hail. He, likewise, overhears their conversation and interrupts them saying that he is also familiar with the place they are from but his accent isn’t the same. He’s heard of the diners and restaurants but he’s never actually eaten in them. He couldn’t describe the smell as you walk in the door or the feel of the carpet under your feet or the familiar smile of greeting the restaurant owner always beams when he welcomes his ‘favourite regulars’. When the two new found friends dare to correct this self proclaimed expert he takes offense. He objects: but I have read it, it says so here and here. You gentlemen must be wrong. You have been away from your home a long time and your memories must be rusty. Consequently, before long, the two chaps find a way of departing from this man’s company.
God is a place wherein some grow up and the people that have grown in God always recognise one another regardless of other incidental factors like traditions, customs, nationality, gender, or race. They recognise the accent; their personal familiarity with the nuances of the terrain; the hard knocks doled out by the town teachers. But there are others and the only God they know is the God of Reflections, and anyone that has had the experience of living in God can recognise these people instantly.