Attempts to describe God often result in disappointment. It is a task that challenges even the most learned among us. Theologians, philosophers, and artists design words and images to profile divinity, to measure eternity, and to assess immortality. We listen. We read. We evaluate. We respond. Many times, the faithful and the curious are left on their own to tidy up loose ends and rein in rambling language. Confusion trumps clarity. New questions overwhelm answers. Doubt challenges certainty.
Despite the limitations of language, we still seek God. The prospect of unconditional love, forgiveness and support has immense appeal. The comfort of protection, concern, and order support us when risk, indifference, and confusion erode our opinions of nature and humankind. We want to believe in honor and truth and hope of the highest level.
When someone succeeds through words and images to expose meaning and purpose in life, even for a moment, we receive a blessing. When the messenger is a five year old, the delivery is special in several ways. It is a triumh of language and a path to discovery.
Azdeen gift-wrapped his metaphor for God in a question. He asked his mother, “Mama, is the sun, God, because it follows me around everywhere?” My curiosity chased away an initial flash of amusement. I read Azdeen’s inquiry again because I knew that there was more to his phrasing than clever arrangement.
When a child speaks, the language usually lacks the color of talented storytellers. And so we fill the empty space with images that transport us into their world. References to scary monsters, beautiful princesses, and handsome heroes may lack detail, but we can rely on our own childhood experience with ogres, fair maidens and princes to retrieve a visual to support the story. References to God are more challenging. When I read Azdeen’s words again, I reached for an image, but did not find one.
An image can be a worthy substitute for words. It can tell a story, describe a scene, and reveal a condition. Without changing, it can change us. Without movement, it can move us. It can take us to new places and return us to familiar ones. It exposes triumphs and failures. It invites us to think; it can prompt us to act. It can rouse emotions and resolve conflicts. It can prove a point, refute a position, and silence a critic. It can demand attention, request interpretation, and inspire action. It helps us learn; it helps us to remember.
Some words are like a diamond – many facets that converge to form a gem. Each displays a unique perspective of light and color. A single image cannot describe them – like Azdeen’s expression.
His phrase stretches beyond the edges of a single image. They elevate language with their arrangement and style. On a page, they treat the eyes and stir the mind. They delight us with content, composition and structure. Spoken aloud, they make music, melodic phrases that we recognize as art, the ordinary made extraordinary.
An image emerged as I thought about the young messenger’s remark. It was not about the heavens but rather this world and his world. I thought about places where a young child can develop a sense of wonder for the unknown and ask questions to pursue truth and understanding in an environment of love and safety. His words reminded me that through each other and in each other we witness achievement in our pursuit of perfection. His words celebrate the process of discovery and the value of the journey.
Just as we know the sun shines above Azdeen even when he sleeps, we know that there is order, and protection, and love in Azdeen’s world. We know it through him. He has shown us. And he has given us a glimpse of universal peace and harmony.
Not all of Azdeen’s inquiries of God come with eloquent layers of phrasing. Some lack the color and tone of his metaphor of the sun. He has asked, “How big is God?” He even wondered if “God had a number.” Azdeen will learn he does not need a number. He already has a connection. He knows how to pray.