Friday, 11 December 2009
God is a drunkard
When we praise God, according to Dionysius, we start with names taken from the highest, most divine things: oneness, threeness, goodness, beauty. But there aren't very many of them, and the more you think about them, the more you realise that, well, when it comes to trying to say everything there is to say about God, they just don't quite do it. So you move down to the next level of existence, where there are more names, and try those: God is a father, God is a King, God is Lord, God is a shepherd, God is a servant. You could go on like this for a fair old while, but eventually you realise that it's still not quite enough. So you go on speaking, praising God with ever more words, widening the net of your praise until it takes in the whole of creation, and you realise that to name God, to fully describe him, you'd have to use every word there is; you'd have to find him in every single created thing: God is a duck-billed platypus; God is a pencil; God is a supernova; God is a whale. But you can't just use the things that are obviously cool, or beautiful, or nice: everything in the whole of creation reflects God in some way, and if you want to do the job of naming God thoroughly, you have to go to less respectable places. Dionysius says that God gets enraged, God swears; God grieves; God sleeps and wakes; God dresses himself up in fancy clothes; God is a drunkard; God is hungover.
Uncomfortable, isn't it? But here's the thing: if you can't see something of God even in drunkenness, you're not looking hard enough. If you're satisfied to go to church and sing the same five songs every week, about how God is Father, King, Shepherd, and all those other cliches, you're not worshipping hard enough. If you really want to know who God is, says Dionysius, you have to find him everywhere. Everywhere.
This, it strikes me, is one of the best arguments for conservationism, and for preserving minority cultures and languages. The last Dodo dies, and you lose an irreplaceable opportunity for understanding who God is. The last Gaelic speaker dies; and you will never be able to see God through the eyes of a native speaker of Gaelic. But it's also an encouragement to welcome change and encourage innovation: a new breed of dog means a new name for God; the ipod is born, and with it another insight into the Creator of all things. God is everywhere: high culture, low culture, endangered animals, invasive species. If you can't see him, you're probably not looking hard enough. God is a drunkard.
Photo credit: sarasco on Flickr.