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.

8 comments:

Maladjusted said...

Beautiful...

Even though I thought that this post was going to be about a Tom Waits song (and that this, alas, turned out not to be the case) I'm still not disappointed: "God dresses himself up in fancy clothes, God is a drunkard; God is hungover.."

That's -just- wonderful, Marika. Wondrously attuned to the wonder of things. It also reminds me of the end of Plato's Symposium: Alcibiades coming in, and then dull Aristodemus seeing as a last vision the trinity of the tragic poet, the comic poet and the philosopher just before everything dissolves into everything else: the culmination of the ritual, the dissolution back into the mystery, the answer -- beyond philosophy or poetry -- to the question about divine eros...

Matt Wilson said...

now that, put a smile on my face,
not often that you get to say that about theology (shame eh) but thanks
great stuff

Annie Holmes said...

Woo scary. YEAAH!

Theo said...

Hm, seems that someone is reading too much Nietzsche. heheheh. Anyway. I'm pretty sure that you are talking about allegory, or even better, i hope, myths,. which I totally agree. That comes with cs lewis thoughts i think about the allegory of love and about his ideas about joy and missing home. God bless

Anonymous said...

You need to quit reading so much anti-Christian philosophical cult ramblings and read more of the Bible, lady. Dionysius was a heretic! If you know anything about the God of the Bible, or His character and attributes, or true worship, God is NOT a drunkard, nor a reviler, nor a pedophile, nor a murderer, nor a cusser, nor any of these other unintellectual ideas you try to associate with Him. You clearly don't know your God, but have created your own god in the likeness of the foolish heresies that you pour yourself into, now having the discernment to know what is truth and what is fallacy. God is NOT a drunkard!

Anonymous said...

not having*

Marika said...

Well, first of all you could try reading my post on apophatic theology, also very important in Dionysius' thought: http://marikablogs.blogspot.com/2009/03/apophatic-and-cataphatic-theology.html

And after reading that, you'll understand why I would see that God is a drunkard, but also that, obviously, God is not a drunkard. Theological language is complicated.

Second, Dionysius basically gets all of his theological language for God from the Bible, so I'd suggest that maybe you should go back and reread it. There's plenty in there that's a lot more shocking than the idea that God is a drunkard.

Marika said...

What I forgot to mention is that Dionysius gets his idea that God is a drunkard from the Bible. The verses he's probably referring to are as follows:

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride ... I have drunk my wine and my milk. (Song of Songs 5:1)

Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine. (Psalm 78:65)