I wonder who is?
Originating in a cartoon puppet show on children’s TV, our grandsons will point at people and in a gruff dinosaur-like voice declare “Not the Mama!”. Please don’t ask me what it is all about, but it has caused me to reflect more broadly on “Who is the responsible adult here?” and how this plays out in our relationship with God.
Recently I made the journey to see my Mother in Dorset in order to arrange some regular Carer visits. These are a necessity from the viewpoint of my brother and myself, but have not been viewed as such by my Mother who, not unnaturally, wishes to maintain her independence. The long car journey afforded much time to reflect on the changing dynamic through the ageing process between the responsible adult and the dependent one. Grandson Arthur cannot really shout “Not the Mama!” to his Mum, but things are very different for my Mother and I, as the arranging of Carers and the sorting of Power of Attorney for financial matters means she is no longer the responsible adult who brought me into the world, fed, clothed and cared for me through to the time I left home for college. But she is still my Mum!
What then of God our heavenly Father? He is and remains the responsible adult in our relationship with him, doesn’t he? Creation continues, he knows far more than we might ever, he feeds and clothes and cares, he loves and forgives, picking us up and giving us another chance. God desires the best for us and gives us the gifts for a rich and fulfilling life. We depend on him and are more than ready to make him the responsible one when things go wrong! Yet, God allows us to stand on our own feet, to make our own choices and decisions. He gives us the gifts we need to take the role of ‘responsible adult’ ourselves and we discover that he is, in many ways, dependent on us to fulfil his purposes and life. But he is still God!
In our family relationships we all experience the dependent-responsible-dependent transition, however difficult it might be, and there we can find some understanding for our relationship with God. There are times when we will wish to be “Not the Mama!” and allow God to bear the weight of responsibility, but we must also acknowledge that out of his love and through his Holy Spirit God gives us all we need to responsibly fulfil his purposes in us.
I recall my youthful bemusement when persuaded to view abstract works of art on school trips to the Tate Gallery. “Anyone could do that” is perhaps the most common response, but they don’t! “What is it meant to be?” is the next response, assuming that all art should represent something recognisable.
That all ended when I was taught to simply ‘see it as it is’. It is not trying to be something other than a painting – colour, shape, form. Yes, I interpret what I see because it arouses feelings (excitement, boredom, indifference) and associations from my personal experience, but it is the work of the artist and not of my imagination or memory.
I wonder if God is perhaps a little like an abstract painting. He is who he is. He is not meant to be anything else and while we attempt to define him in terms of our human experience we will always fall short.
In the same way, we get closest if we attend to our feelings and not our knowledge. Above all, God is love and while we might see and experience this in action it is in those relationships where we feel and experience love that we find God.
What then of Jesus, the man who shared our experience in order that God be made real within it? Certainly, he was not abstract but we do find it hard to ‘get a handle’ on him. He was a first century Jew and for that reason many find it hard to discover his relevance for the 21st century in western culture. Artistically many have placed Jesus in their own time. Many of the greatest painters have represented gospel stories set in the time in which they lived, but this misses the point in many ways. Jesus is not the white anglo-saxon with blonde hair of the old Sunday school painting, but neither is he the dark-skinned dark-haired man of more recent films. He is love. He is forgiveness. He is life lived in relationship with God and neighbour. He is who he is.
The photograph is chosen with a hymn by John Mason in mind - “Thou art a sea without a shore”
1 How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
Thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?
2 Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
They sing, because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heaven is but once begun
there alleluias be.
3 Enlighten with faith's light my heart,
inflame it with love's fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part
with that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.
4 How great a being, Lord, is thine,
which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore,
thy place is everywhere.