My last wish made into matter drew me to three ceramic Chinese figures: Fuk, Luk and Sau, gods of health, wealth and happiness, dressed in ceremonial red, yellow and blue. Their eyes spoke of wisdom and love.
As a child in Sunday School learning the ten commandments, I worried that some of my beloved toys might qualify as graven images. What a zealous superego! When I read about the golden calf, I half identified with the people circling the wilderness, homeless and scared. I decided had I been there, I might have donated a gold locket just to have something to remind me that this law-giving God was at the helm guiding passage to a promised land.
The late Vassar Miller, a Texan poet, told me a story that changed my mind about things. She said her father came home one day and brought her a toy typewriter. While she was riddled with cerebral palsy, she managed to peck out a few words and immediately fell in love with that toy typewriter, a symbol of her identity as a writer emerging out of near hopelessness. Surely that little typewriter was matter dowsed with spirit!
For me, longing for a new thing symbolizes my spiritual wish for new direction. Sometimes I go in search of this matter-metaphor like a hunter stalking a hart. Sometimes, like my clay emperors, they come to me in sweet synchronicity. Although God is about the unseen, my faith flags at times and hope hides in the shadows. Donald Winnicott called the need to give solid form to psychic change “transitional objects”. As teddy bears and security blankets help toddlers separate from their mothers, these objects comfort us as we move from one psychological state to another.
God must have figured that out. God saw statues of rulers and sacrifices made for lower case gods and elaborate palaces built for them. Perhaps God acquiesced like an indulgent parent, because God suddenly began asking people to build a Temple. Followers became so addicted to the Temple that Old Testament prophets were unable to wean the people from the necessity of having one after it was destroyed. Perhaps, those who thought in black and white reasoned, “No Temple, no God”. Ezekiel’s vision of the wheel in the sky; i.e., that the temple was “portable” addressed that point. Nowadays, those who thirst for blood to rebuild the Temple reek of tantrums of an angry child deprived of his or her security blanket clinging to an outdated God. A local theologian and therapist, Pittman McGeehee, in his book The Invisible Church suggests that the church resides within ourselves.
We sometimes need something tangible to remind us of that message: crosses, mustard seed necklaces, fish symbols on bumper stickers, little things. When the energy of things wanes, they become idols and must be left behind. Then, as Jim Hollis suggests in his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, the energy pops up elsewhere. If I were to still own all of the tangible metaphors animating me and pointing me to new spiritual paths, I would truly be a hoarder and a rank materialist. I eventually let them go.
It’s pretty human to wish to ground God.