May 2015: Knowing God; Dazzling Darkness

Photo from recent eclipse

Sunday 10 May: We joined in with the Christian Aid All Age service at St Francis Church, Hollow Way, followed by bring n share lunch.

Thurs 21 May: Community Meal at Skye n Joel's. We had an interesting discussion on how God is described and where that's led to mistaking metaphors for God ("God is light") for literal facts; - perhaps God is also found in darkness. Here's Joel's text (he says it's a work in progress):

The language we use when it comes to describing the nature of God can be separated into three basic categories. There is the kataphatic, that is the description of the attributes possessed by God, such as omniscience or omnipotence; there is the apophatic, or the definition via negative, those attributes not possessed by God, such as ‘without limit’ or ‘not physical’; and there is the metaphoric, whereby God is compared to another entity.

It is the third of these categories, the metaphoric, that is of interest here. This is because metaphor contains so great a possibility of confusion. Metaphor works by making a comparison between two entities, which are not the same as one another, with the goal of drawing out a particular characteristic of the one by its relation to the other. When we make use of metaphor in relation to our descriptions of God, there are two ways in which this may lead to discrepancies in understanding.

Firstly, it must be remembered, when considering metaphors used in the Bible, that linguistic concepts are not fixed, but fluid. That is, a word in a particular culture may have meanings that do not necessarily carry into a new culture or a new time. The obvious examples of this, in terms of the Biblical record, are the words ‘Father’ and ‘King’. When God is described as Father, this is a metaphor that had a different meaning in a nomadic, patriarchal society, than it may have in the United Kingdom in the twenty first century. When we read it now we have to associate the word with protection, provision and social security, as opposed to some of the more negative ideas that it may conjure up today. Gregory of Nyssa says ‘The divine word at the beginning forbids that the Divine be likened to any of the things known by men, since every concept which comes from some comprehensible image by an approximate understanding and by guessing at the divine nature constitutes an idol of God and does not proclaim God.’

Secondly, a metaphor may cause confusion by replacing in people’s minds, the thing that it has originally been invoked to describe. So instead of looking beyond the metaphor to the thing it is describing, we see only the metaphor. In Jacques Derrida’s words ‘metaphor is no longer noticed, and it is taken for the proper meaning.’ This is of particular relevance when considering the idea of God as light. It is easy to substitute, when Jesus says ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12), the metaphor of light for the true nature of God, instead of saying that the qualities of light are a means of understanding the nature of God, but that God is not actually light.

The New Testament record frequently uses the metaphor of light when describing God and almost exclusively reserves the metaphor of darkness for the absence of God or the enemies of God. As a result, the concept of light has been understood, not as a metaphor, but as a kataphatic description of the divine. The obverse of this is that the notion of ‘darkness’ in Christian thought has been regarded as the opposite of God and therefore a negative quality. If light is considered rather as a metaphor for certain divine qualities, such as leading one to perception, then we can begin also to explore the positive qualities of darkness as well.

Sunday 31 May: We met at the Cherwell Centre for a bring and share lunch, before building the biggest den ever (see photos below)! We crawled inside, adults and children alike. Then we talked about how it felt to be in the dark of the den. We took a phrase each to read Psalm 139 "even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you." Then Joel led us in a meditation. We finished with a communion led by Skye. It was lovely to welcome a visiting family from Farmoor, and we had a surprise 2nd visit from Allan from Canada who joined us for a Thursday night community meal last month.

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