Last Sunday I spoke about the difficulty – in fact the impossibility – of speaking about God in exacting terms – talking about God in any definitive, unambiguous way … as if we can comprehend fully and nail down completely our concept of God.
And, of course, while we do know something very important about God through the person of Jesus – his life, ministry, death and resurrection …
…While indeed the person of Jesus tells and shows us something very significant and central about God’s nature and God’s ways …
… There is still lots about God we don’t know … and never will this side of eternity …
There’s always been a strong theme within the Jewish spirituality and faith tradition, of refraining from even speaking out loud the name of God – in Hebrew, “Yahweh”.
And this, out of deep respect for, and deference toward, the Holy One, whom you can’t put into a nice, neat, tidy mental box.
In the Hebrew language, when you read Hebrew on a printed page, all you see are consonants, no vowels, no `a, e, i, o, u’s”.
Most of the consonants in the Hebrew alphabet are the hard-sounding letters – like the “d” and “b” and “t”, “k”.
And the idea is, that the person reading the Hebrew on the page, “fills in” the softer vowel sounds to complete the words.
But it’s been pointed out, interestingly, that the few consonants used in the word Yahweh – YWYH – are the only Hebrew consonants in the Hebrew alphabet that do not allow you to close your lips or tongue when you pronounce them.
YWYH. These letters are all pronounced without needing to close your lips or your tongue.
And so, you end up pronouncing these letters while keeping your mouth open, and inhaling and exhaling air at the same time. YWYH.
So even if we do speak the Hebrew name of God, we dare not try close our lips around it, thinking we have captured the name of God.
What a wonderful, physical, tangible reminder, that God can never be captured, clamped down upon, closed down into some definitive, easy-to-understand mental `box’ that closing one’s lips signify.
The holy name of God, when spoken, is always spoken with mouth open, while connected to the air around us – YWYH — breathing in and out, inhaling and exhaling the air that all living things, all human beings, share and breathe.
God – who is always beyond us and outside of us, is also totally surrounding us, and within us …
… just like the air we breathe, that same air everyone breathes, that universal, accessible air.
God … like air … while always transcendent mystery and beyond us, is also remarkably accessible, intimate, and within us.
And just like air is available everywhere, giving life to all humans and living creatures, so too God, as Creator of all, values and cherishes, and wishes to be in relationship… with all.
Peter the disciple of Jesus suddenly realizes this very thing in a dramatic, `aha’ moment.
In the reading from the book of Acts, he has a strange, unusual dream, in which he sees all these animals that are forbidden to be eaten by the people of God, as laid out in the book of Leviticus.
And while he sees all these `unclean’ animals floating in the air under this four-cornered sheet, he hears a voice saying: Eat them!
As a good practising Jewish Christian, Peter refuses.
But three times he hears that voice, a voice that then says:
“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
Peter suddenly realizes, that what God was really telling him, was that the Gentiles – people who were outside the Hebrew faith and to that point in history, regarded by the Hebrews as `unholy’, `unclean’, `dis-favoured’, `looked down upon’ by God ….
Peter realizes, that what God was really telling him, was that these Gentiles were now `clean’ and `holy’, just like the Hebrews.
As Peter reports to the Church in Jerusalem, God was now telling Peter to go to the Gentiles who were also seen as loved and valued by God.
Verse 12: “The Spirit told me to go with [the Gentiles], and not to make a distinction between them and us.”
God’s presence and love, like air, reaches all people.
Who are the “Gentiles” of today?
To whom might the Spirit of God be calling us to reach out with the love and care of God shown in Jesus?
Realizing that the life-giving air that we breathe, is the exact same air that gives life to the “other” who seems so different from us?
Jesuit priest Anthony De Mello once told a parable about these villagers who, one day receive a traveller, who has just returned from the jungles of the Amazon.
He tries to describe the breath-taking, thundering waterfalls, the lush and vibrant-coloured foliage, the striking sounds of tropical, exotic wildlife, birds and rushing rapids.
The traveller just can’t capture in words, the awesome beauty he’s experienced by journeying to that place.
He just stutters on, and then finally says, “You just need to go to that place, and experience it, in the flesh, for yourself… and then you’ll know.”
And then he proceeds to draw a map that leads to this place.
Immediately, the villagers pounce on this map.
They copy it so everyone can have his or her own copy.
They frame the map for their town hall and homes.
Regularly they study the map, and discuss it often, until the villagers consider themselves experts on the Amazon – for do they not know the location of every waterfall and rapid, every turn and bend?
At the end of the day, none of the villagers actually take the journey to the Amazon, but they all “fool” themselves into thinking they know everything about it.
Jesus commands us to “love another”, and others will know we are followers of Jesus, not by our talking about love, studying love, reflecting and debating and researching love, but actually loving others in tangible, practical, en-fleshed ways.
God already loves so deeply, so widely. We don’t have to “work” hard to find it. It’s already found us.
It’s as close to us as the very air we breathe in, which already unites all living creatures.
We only need to open our mouths, open our hearts, open our hands to take the hand of the “other” beside us, and we’ll be well on our journey to experiencing God’s abundant life.