If divine presence is an unvarying constant, a given term in our theological equations like the speed of light in physics, then our awareness of God is not. On the human side of the equation everything seems to be in a constant perceptual flux, like the wind, rain and sunshine of this Easter weekend. For me picturing God and capturing decisive moments of spiritual meaning-making has far more to do with the art of photography than with the intellectual pursuit of truth through philosophy and academic theology. Beauty, not logic, is what ultimately persuades my soul of the enfolding presence of God’s love. Images and not arguments convince my heart to trust. Why? Surely it is because love is primarily sensual and experiential rather than intellectual and propositional. ‘God is love’ is not simply a gobbet to be deconstructed and picked over; it is a living, breathing, passionate truth which encounters us personally. This line of thinking has been triggered again for me by Madeleine Bunting’s excellent piece in today’s Guardian ‘God is attracting more debate than ever’. She says
“The faithful are not mugging up on critiques of reason for an argument with New Atheism, but turning to religion to offer meaning and purpose…This search for meaning is part of what drives the religious spirit….belief is a commitment not a proposition; faith, as in "I have faith in you", is an expression of confidence, not an assertion of the existence of something. Dogma is "a truth which cannot easily be put into words and which can only be fully understood through long experience" – rather like the love of a parent for their child growing into adulthood.
The loss of the original meanings of all these words show how religious faith in the west came to be interpreted as a matter of the head and the intellect, and was bound up with the authority of an institution which expected submission: God was regarded as something to think about rather than do in large chunks of western religious practice…
The paradox of New Atheism is that in its bid to make religion unacceptable, it has contributed to making it a subject that is considered worth talking about again…God hasn't attracted this quantity or intensity of debate for decades.”
Meaning and purpose often come as flashes of insight, like the light catching the reeds in the photograph. Light makes photographs. The quality, quantity and direction of light is principally what brings an image to life. It determines the contrast between the various components of the picture. For a few moments the light paints a composition which holds our attention, then it is gone, and the scene is rendered flatter and somewhat lifeless. The photographers particular viewpoint coupled with their choice of lens and their judgement of the best moment to press the shutter determine whether the response to this enlightening gift is dull or arresting. I would contend that our faith is enriched most by those mystics whose spirituality has a recognisable style in respect of their generous seeing and appreciation of God’s love-light and the distinctiveness of their inclusive point of view. Pondering my own story I realise that Julian of Norwich, the Celtic Saints, Aelred of Rievaulx, St Francis, Hildegard of Bingen, St. John of the Cross, John Wesley, Thomas Merton, Joan Chittister are the sorts of names which spring to mind, gifted artists of light each one. And many more ordinary Christians whose faith, companionship and support has shaped my own seeing of God’s love in the world around me and pulled it into sharp focus.
In often fleeting moments of deep contrast, the light of the world invites us to see, record and share the brilliance of resurrection which is such an unvarying constant of God’s loving presence and intention.