“God’s first language is silence; all the rest is bad translation.”
(St. John of the Cross)
My own personal “bad translation” begins with Mystery. I learned somewhere that the words “myth,” “mystery” and “mysticism” all come from a common root in the Greek letter mu, which means “silence.” One who used this word accompanied it with a gesture of putting one’s finger to the lips, meaning, “do not speak; keep still.” To me, that suggests that the Sacred lives beyond the reach of words, concepts, and theologies. It makes sense to me that Thomas Aquinas (13th century theologian) would write some thirteen volumes in a work called Summa Theologica and then when it was all done, he threw it out in disgust and exclaimed, “It’s all dust and straw!” We humans have some strange compulsion to try to wrap words around the unnamable, despite our awareness of the ultimate futility of our efforts. That impulse lives in me too, so this is my contribution to the heaps of dust and straw that theologians have been piling up for centuries.
I believe in God. When I use the word “God,” I am speaking more of a deep longing within me, than I am claiming to name or associate the Creator with a particular image or set of descriptive words. “God” is first of all how I address the Great Silence. Secondarily, and in a far more limited way, “God” is an object of theological reflection. The singer Sinead O’Connor addresses the Mystery with Jah! (a kind of explosive out-breath). Whether “God” or “Jah,!” for me, these sounds are gestures of speech; they are cries from the heart, from the infinitely small “i am” to the infinitely Great I AM.
I believe in Jesus because he has still managed to speak to me through all the centuries of distortion. I find him in the sayings and parables, in the healing stories, in his dealings with the legalists and moralists of his day and especially in his wide-awake, grounded, and God-saturated character. Jesus lived a radically God-Centered life and because of that he became an occasion for the transmission of powerful images of hope, compassion, and healing to a world that was then and still is bitterly oppressed under a massive burden of what some have called the “Domination System,” the deeply sedimented institutional structures of greed, power-lust, and domination into which we were all born, which we have all internalized, and from which we all long to be liberated. The “Domination System” yields a cornucopia of torture and death, and Jesus knew that it would kill him, so he made the inevitability of his death into another occasion for profound teaching. The Resurrection is Jesus’ answer to the Domination System. In it Jesus is saying, “Don’t be afraid of the powers of death; don’t be afraid of what they can do to you. The soul’s landscape is Eternity. Enjoy this world for its beauty and possibility, and don’t let its sorrows, its limited life and inevitable death define the horizons of your soul. The essence of Jesus’ message seems to be “Come Home to Life, to Mercy, Forgiveness, and a Love so vast that it counts the hairs of your head. There are no limitations on that Love; there is only astonishment, wonder and ever-deepening joy.
I believe in the Holy Spirit more as an event than as a noun. Holy Spirit happens, and when it does, it is a moment of incarnation, an instance or an entire life in which we allow the Great Mystery, Life, Love, and Eternity to be the dynamic center of our lives, re-orienting us in the very midst of the Domination System and in the teeth of its lies and death-dealing ways. Jesus gave us an image of an Incarnational Life lived in the midst of his circumstances; now it’s up to us to soak ourselves in Jah! and learn to live the Incarnational Life in the midst of ours. We are each called to be an occasion for the Holy Spirit’s happening, to incarnate Life’s Creative Love.