I’ve been focused on seeing, carrying my camera around, annoying my friends and family by constantly framing some piece of the visual field, often asking them to be a part of it. I’m finding my default mode is to zero in on something random: a table and three chairs, the surface of the wet street, a shadowed corner of a room, a reflected light in a window, the still life of the book, coffee, and lamp in front of me. As soon as I consider something in the visual field as subject for potential reflection and capture through a camera lens, it changes my perspective, and suddenly, the most ordinary objects take on power. That power is simple: it impacts sensibility, thought, and any movement of mind toward or away from reality, love, and God.
Do I see God in these framed moments? Depending on how generous you’re feeling toward metaphor…absolutely. God reflected, maybe–and perhaps His nearness through glory and the created order is not quite Himself (I’m no pantheist), but still, as the artist lives in the work yet is separate from it, I see these frames of beauty, and if I pay attention, there He is. Accuse me of game-playing, intellectual dishonesty, illusion. Fine, it’s easy to do. But either way, there beauty stands, begging explanation or context, and it seems just as mad to ascribe it to nothing as to a living–however mysterious–God.
I’ve used seeing as a analogue to all sensory experience, and in that spirit, I want to move to listening. Listening to God is a huge issue these days among folks who want to “experience” God. A friend recently wrote to me that his world exploded when he heard this phrase from a respected speaker: “If the Christian does not know when God is speaking, he is in trouble at the heart of his Christian life!” The bold was in the original email.
Experience is certainly noisy. Cluttered. Hums, bangings, roarings, knockings, crunchings, and of course, cryings. (I know “cryings” doesn’t work, but I like the sound of it, speaking of noise.) It’s hard enough to hear the flesh and blood people of our lives, and truckloads of loneliness result from the feeling that no one hears us. We search for our “voice,” take classes in active listening, turn to music to both find and express our inner being, and in it all, we Christian folk hope and pray to “get a word” from God.
It’s odd that so many cry out for a word from God at a time when the Bible is under such seige. The Word of God isn’t considered to be such by many Christian people, at least not in the old inerrant, infallible sense. We hold the Book up to our own sensibilities and find it wanting. We can’t live with the OT genocide, the lack of condemnation of the morally repugnant (slavery, the subjugation of women), and the overall wildness of the tale. We like the salvation stuff, except that salvation necessarily implies we’re in danger of something terrible, needing to be saved from something a loving God would never subject a person to. I’m not sure you can have the one without the other.
I don’t know the answers. Call me a heretic if you want, but the first move I make concerning the Bible is that these men were writers. They were working–struggling, sweating– to put into words their experience of a terrifying and rescuing God. Aided by the Holy Spirit as they struggled (just as He aids us), perhaps the articulation of their experience was full and true, and yet…and yet… We believe Jesus brought the more complete, more perfect “fleshing out” of God’s image, and it is the Christ nature we are looking to as we seek God’s face and His word.
How best to hear? If two people want to have intimate conversation, be they lovers, enemies, or friends, quiet and stillness remain the venue of choice.
The words of God, a corner table in a quiet room, perhaps a coffee, journal, and a deep friend…