Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Metaphors and Summer Breaks

by Lyndsey Graves

It has been ten weeks since I last attended church. I didn’t plan it this way, and there are a hundred reasons why this is a terrible state of affairs, but it is how the summer has turned out.  A long, green stretch and not a church in sight. In between a lot of beautifully life-giving visits with friends and with family, life has mostly been “just me and God.” It’s a phrase I normally abhor, but I find it surprisingly fitting for these weeks of long workdays interspersed with lots of time alone.

Meanwhile, I have read my Bible and talked to my friends and prayed, but I’ve refused to Do Theology. By the end of last semester, I was utterly burned out on analyzing God and having opinions about everything and telling people how to save the world. So I turned in my last paper and I decided to quit thinking. I stopped trying to puzzle out The Big Questions of Christianity in some theory-realm beyond the space and time that I actually occupy. I started cooking instead, and traveling, and crafting, and generally living the life of the average twenty-something whose vocation is not to Think Big Thoughts but just to try, and mostly fail, at making money.

Life, therefore, has been strangely devoid of words about God. Oh, there have been prayers - questions and hopes and thanks offered for me and my little circle of people. But for the last ten weeks, I have pursued no answers and formulated no abstractions, merely the simple stuff of life in summer. Cherries, cucumbers, peppers, popsicles. Long walks at long sunsets. Weddings, homecomings, tangled emotions. Bicycling sticky-hot through the stifling city, and gratitude for an icy shower. Being Christian, in these weeks, has been simply life, prayed through - not in a particularly serious or reflective way, either, only a wandering, companionable one: sharing, asking, thankfulness.

Theology is often spoken of as a quest for metaphors, for word-pictures that will do to describe God. Of course, nothing can describe God; it is only that God has revealed God’s self to us, and we feel ourselves compelled to try. I think it’s worthwhile, or I wouldn’t be making a career of it, but my summer sojourn in Regular Life has taught me about metaphors: metaphors are meant to bring the ineffable closer to us wee humans, yet we can also use it to push the infinite away. We theologians run the risk of idolizing our words, our pet thoughts, and our interpretive methods. Sometimes for it is for the very reason that they once brought us closer to God, or sometimes out of self-righteousness, or sometimes out of an unhealthy, sublimated fear of God. Whatever the reasons, we cling to our words or to our philosophies, and we forget that there was ever anything beyond them but our own belief that we are right.

I love words. They make me grateful to be human. A perfectly-turned phrase is not only beguilingly lovely, but also has such power to shape everything about our perceptions of reality and our ways of living life. Yet I believe that, as people of a Book, we are too prone to allow the mind and its babblings - and yes, even our abstractions like Justice or Truth - to overshadow the humbly sacred things of everyday body and urgent, inexpressible spirit. We fear these or we scorn them; perhaps we grow irritated that they remind us of our finitude. And we miss the point of it all entirely, becoming ever more removed from those unlike us, those who don’t live in their heads or share our oh-so-precise vocabulary. But that’s why we have summer. We have breaks to cease, to rest, and to remember.

Several of my favorite bloggers are taking a break right now as well; it’s fitting and necessary for life. Summer this year feels precious somehow; and I hope for you that you are able to rest in it as well. I hope that on your break, you don’t abandon your own piece of space and time to chase words and formulas and fashions. I hope you are relieved of the need to believe that you are particularly right. I pray only that your summer is full of food that reminds you to love the soil and sun and rain. Of moments when you are overflowing and content. Of new discoveries that bring you joy and old photos whose nostalgia points you toward heaven. May no one explain your frustrations and sorrows away - just for a moment, sit with pain and know how wrong death is. May you encounter a God who cannot be described, and may you simply rest there for a while. There will be another time to reach for your pen and fashion your theories, but right now, there is ever only this present moment to love and be loved by Mystery who defies them all. 

Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest. 

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