If you were to construct a composite of God’s face, how would you picture this? What features should go into this face? Should God look like Mother Teresa or Alanis Morisette, Henri Nouwen or Michael Jordan, John of the Cross or Jerry Seinfeld? Should God’s face speak more of maturity or raw energy, depth or colour, old age or youth, chastity or sex, creed or eroticism, obedience or creativity, tradition or novelty? Would God’s eyes be heavy under the pain of the cross or would they flicker with the mischievous gleam of a comedian?
Since Scripture tells us that God is the author of all that is good, of energy and colour as well as of wisdom and depth, the task, it would seem, is to bring all of these together in God’s face. A genuine composite then should include traces of each: Mother Teresa, Alanis Morisette, Henri Nouwen, Michael Jordan, John of the Cross, and Jerry Seinfeld – given that these represent precisely both mature wisdom and raw energy, meaning and colour, chastity and sex. God is both the crucified one and the comedian. It can be shocking to think like this, especially if we have been conditioned to think of God and spirituality in a way that sets them against sex, colour, wild energy, and comedy, but that is the challenge – just as there is an equal challenge to see God in creed, chastity, obedience, tradition, old age, and the cross.
Perhaps a distinction made by the ancient Greek philosophers can be useful in helping us here. They distinguished between two great energies within the universe, Eros and Logos. Eros, for them, meant more than sex. It was their word for the billion and one different desires within us that ache for love, intimacy, connection, immersion, sex, creativity, sensual pleasure, colour, humour, and bodily contact. Eros, for them, meant raw, un-initiated, wild, creative energy and was seen as the fire inside of all things, the straw that stirs the whole drink, the life-principle inside of everything. Its opposite was death. But, in their view of things, eros needed always to be balanced off by the other great force, logos. Logos (which literally means “word”) was what infused meaning, understanding, and depth into things. Its task was to initiate, shape, mould, and channel eros. Thus, while eros constantly fires us towards immersion in the physical, in sex, in colour, in taste, in touch, and in sensual pleasure, logos directs us, beckons us towards some separation, points out various depths and meanings, and cautions us towards some chastity and asceticism. Eros gives touch and taste, logos gives separation and meaning. The belief was that these two primordial forces needed always to be kept in balance: too much of one without the other and you were living dangerously.
The key for our spiritual health, I believe, lies precisely in having these two in a correct tension. No easy thing. Invariably we fall off one side or the other of a precariously narrow roof: If we give logos too much place, we fall into puritanism. This is often taken simplistically to mean a fear of sex, but it is something wider. To be a puritan is to give in to the temptation to want life without complication, mess, and the complexities that necessarily follow from real immersion into energy, sex, and colour. Most of us suffer from this in one form or other. For example, Henri Nouwen, in his typically honest, confessional way, once expressed this particular fear: “Maybe I am afraid to touch the wet soil from which new life comes forth.” (Sabbatical Journey, p.10) That’s puritanism speaking, just as it also speaks through Marxism’s century-long fear of real colour and through so many of our own fears of the raw energy of youth. Colour and youth, like sex, invariably mess up life, even as they provide some of the major ingredients that make it worth living. Conversely, however, if our itch is only for eros, we can too easily access only raw energy, denigrate logos, have too little fear of immersion and the mess, lose all meaning and the capacity to separate ourselves (another phrase for addiction) and end up literally killing ourselves with the goodness of life itself. Such, sadly, is the lot of too many artists and creative people, just as colourlessness is too often the lot of religious people.
Eros and logos. They may never be separated. To lose eros is to become colourless, sexless, humourless, stagnant, unable to really taste life because we are so afraid of mess and complication that we would rather live on a diet of antiseptics than risk eating real food for fear of impurity. Conversely, to lose logos is to become so immersed in tasting the goodness and creativity of life so as to lose all proportion, meaning, creed, and purpose. God is both, eros and logos. The face that ultimately consoles, challenges, and beckons us looks a little like an archetypal elder and a little like a very mischievous youth.