Aagh! I have been thinking about a variety of things, turning them over slowly in my mind, wanting to talk to you about them but not yet having come to a clarity.
And now look what’s happened! An emergency editing project has landed on my desk – oh yes, 85,000 words to be turned around in a fortnight! Gulp. So if you wonder where I am over the next few days, now you know.
But something I have been mulling over, and coming to no conclusions, is the teaching in Deuteronomy (and elsewhere) on graven images.
Personally, I love graven images, and have cheerfully ignored this teaching all my life. I know that in Judaism and Islam they still observe this commandment, and following through lectionary readings from Deuteronomy in Morning Prayer has made me think about it.
This is one of these teachings – like headcovering and women keeping silence in the great assembly – that seems to make no real sense. Broadly in the church it’s ignored – as are the teachings on divorce and usury – but I wonder . . .
I have been thinking, if we could do this . . . if we could get back to biblical living, what would it be like?
I know there are things in the Bible like stoning people to death and polygamous marriage that seem like a less good idea, but following through into the teaching of Jesus and the apostles leads us out of those things just as Abraham led the people out of infant sacrifice. I’m assuming we are taking seriously the teaching to bless not curse, to love and forgiveness, to patience and gentleness and peace.
In our church I have offered myself to preach. It felt that the Lord was calling me to that again – but now, I wonder? The word burns inside me when I keep silence in the great congregation, but . . . I wonder . . . What is it that burns? The word of life or my need to offer an opinion on every possible occasion?
And graven images. When I thought about it, graven images create something small in our spirituality, diminishing the focus of our faith. In making to ourselves no graven images, could we be taking steps towards entering the intimacy of mystery, learning to know the unseen God, encounter the invisible? Might graven images pander always to our penchant for metaphor, for definition, pigeonholing the limitless divine into the frame of reference that starts and ends with me? When I make to myself graven images, they reflect my preferences, my aesthetic, my culture – my choices; this saint and not that.
“Behold the Lamb of God” – before we make a graven image of that, how large a concept it is! Lamb that is roast meat smoking on the altar – the bleeding Christ raised on his cross in the midday heat of Palestine, “I thirst”. A newborn lamb all in a radiance of innocence – the vulnerable, helpless Christ in the manger, reaching out to us in His purity, not almighty now but at our mercy. The Lamb upon the throne – accepting the reign of simplicity in the Peaceable Kingdom. But the minute we have a graven image, all the possibilities are reduced by what we see – usually a sheep with a flag.
Buddhists speak of “the uncarved block” – the limitless potential of that which has not yet been carved or shaped. Perhaps that’s why God prohibited the formation of graven images – because they stunt our imagination, causing us to see so little, to set our sights too low, to content ourselves with what is seen, what is physical. They get between us and Mystery, obscuring our view. I wonder.