Ever since my childhood in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador I have said that the only thing bigger than a mountain is a cloud. That’s an experiential kind of assessment, of course, because the planet is bigger than both, but when you’re up in the mountains and awed by their sheer mass, pretty soon a cloud comes drifting in and obliterates it all. How many times have I stood in the mountains wondering just which way was home because a cloud decided to inhabit the same space for a while! There was a time in my life when my ideas about God were like the cloud. What I “knew” constituted the total sum of the human knowledge of theology. It was an experiential kind of assessment, to be sure. I had answers to the questions—therefore I had to be right. Point out the mountain, and all I saw was the cloud. Forget the planet!
It’s a funny thing, really. All of our “experience of God” is raw, immediate and real. It is as real as the feel of the woman I kissed goodbye when I headed off to the office this morning. It is as real as the shame I have felt at seeing police lights in my rear-view mirror. It is as real as our experience allows—phenomenologically, it is as real as it gets. But then someone points to the mountain now and again and we glimpse it. Suddenly our experiential knowledge is challenged by other experiential knowledge and we lose a sense of which way is home. At the best of times we stop looking for answers because we’re not sure what the questions are anymore. We are in a cloud, and know the mountain is in there somewhere…but where? Groping, groping, guessing and feeling our way, we find we “arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”1
All our declamations about God are feeble attempts at capturing the experience of mystery, and the only lexicon we have is metaphor.
1Eliot, Thomas Stearns. Little Gidding. London, UK: Faber & Faber, 1943.
Phot credit: Paul Moore, all rights reserved.