In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert is given some instructions that begin with this truth: “Life’s metaphors are God’s instructions.”

I smiled as I read it. It’s always good to hear an outside source explain what’s going on within myself. I mean, we have a book full of prophets who hear God through metaphors. They hear the divine speaking to a nation through the plumb line and the hanging basket. One of our holy men put his whole family in the metaphor/messenger business when he married a prostitute and named his child “Not My People.”

My metaphors are not so dramatic, but they’re present and real, often leading me in quiet ways. Unlike many of my Reformed forefathers, who only adhere to special revelation and proclaim that we can only know about God through the Word of God (Jesus Christ), I am open to general revelation, found in nature.

Of course, Karl Barth was writing in the midst of the atrocities of Nazi Germany, which led him to believe that humanistic optimism that liberal theology presented needed a corrective. But, perhaps his correction went too far. Maybe Barth was too busy looking down at the newspaper in his one hand and the Bible in his other, that he forgot to look up at the Swiss mountains.

Nature reveals something about nature of God. The rocks, shells, birds, and roots point to the divine. I love the rich poetry of the Psalms and how these songs connect the lovely mountains, thirsty tree, and even the raging storms to their Creator. Often, I sense that I’m learning something from metaphors. Like Reverendmother’s beautiful lesson from the creaking gate.

As I prepared for a trip to the Grand Canyon, I held those words in my gut: “Life’s metaphors are God’s instructions.” And each morning, as I sat at the great chasm and watched the rising sun, I prayed about my next steps. Because with a metaphor that massive, how could I miss God’s instructions?

It’s not difficult to understand why so many people consider the Canyon a holy place. With each glance, the sun hit the layered rocks with a different light and angle, creating new earthy hues and dark shadows. I inhaled a bit, as if my own breath would somehow intrude on the power of that moment.

As sacred as it felt, I began to realize that beauty is always under our feet. The erosion of millions of years exposed the layers of shale, limestone, and sandstone in the canyon, but those things are always beneath us, under the surface of the ground, supporting us with a richness and splendor that we will never fathom.

And so I came away with the sense that we are standing on holy ground. Each step that we take, beneath the surface, is sacred.

photo by Phijomo


3 thoughts on “Revelations

  1. Not at all, Jonathan. I loved the article too. I had always heard about it (the Presbyterian’s glory day–when KB’s on the cover of Time), but I never thought I had access to it. I love Barth, in fact. I own the entire set of Dogmatics. Of course, I can’t say that I’ve read every word of it…yet.

    I relished the thought of Karl at two Albee plays, and then going to Second City! I just kept thinking, “Wow! That’s what I would have done if I were visiting Chicago for the first time!”

    As I was reading through the different academic articles, I noticed that many theologians are making the point that regardless of Barth’s argument with Bunner against natural theology, in practice, Barth wrote about God in music, etc. It seems as if the academy’s becoming uncomfortable with his position, which is good.

    I’m just afraid that the great chasm of separation he’s drawn between the Creator/created ought to be amended in this important time of environmental need.

    Ann, I thought Eat, Pray, Love was very interesting. I found myself swinging from feeling really sorry for her to being jealous of her (the year of travel/prayer/writing). I love that this genre has formed–a spiritual seeker’s genre–and has such a wide audience. She’s going to be at the National Cathedral soon. I’m looking forward to it.

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