Monday, March 28, 2011

The Tooth, the Truth, and the Imagination

Speaking of mythical creatures, I have good news.  There has been a tooth-fairy sighting in Wheaton, Illinois.  The six year old I baby sit for says that she saw him.  Apparently, he has rainbow colored hair and wears a beautiful dress.  I asked her how she knew it was a boy, and she said, as though I was insufferably slow, because on the dress it says, “I’m a boy.”  Oh, and there’s a unicorn in his hair.
There’s so much to say about this, it’s hard to know exactly where to start.  I asked her if she believed the tooth fairy was real.  She said yes.  I asked her if she believed in God.  She said yes.  I said, and what is He like?  He seems scary.  But you know he loves you right?  Yeah, he loves me a lot.  She seemed genuine about it.  And then she scrunched up her little face the way children do when thinking deeply and said, I don’t think the tooth fairy is really real.  I think that maybe it is just somebody pretending to be the tooth fairy.    
She has a dress in the closet that she looks at almost every day.  If I didn’t know any better, I would say it looks a great deal like a tooth fairy dress, pouffy tulle skirl and all.  Except that it is all white.  She is not allowed to wear it for another year when she takes her first communion.  But still, she looks.  
Tomorrow morning she is going to wake up, eagerly look under the pillow, and there will be some money there.  She will be grateful but unsure of exactly where to direct her gratitude.  I’ve heard the God/tooth-fairy analogy before, but it seems to me it breaks down because there is a tooth-fairy.  Not “inside her heart,” but two flesh and blood people who in a sense gave her all her teeth.  And now in the middle of the night give her cash, and bless her with a something she does not really understand in a way she cannot see.  But one day, she will know, and it will be her choice whether to say thank you, or not.  “Fairy” is a word, a baby tooth. 
If my god is a god-of-the-gaps, my logic is unfair.  And often as humans we explain phenomena we don’t understand with mythical beings outside of the bounded set of what we can touch.  Where there is a gap, we often fill it with our imagination.  Rainbow hair, a unicorn, a fish tail, a trident, whatever.  However, Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  It seems to me that it is not just telling us to ask, as many apologists have presented it, who could have made this tree?  a god must have.  It’s saying, look at the tree.  Look at the tree.  Understand His divine attributes from what has been made, not because of the ways you don’t understand what was made but the ways that you do.  I recognize that to some extent, as I’ve presented it, this is circular logic. However, I think there are a number of ways to enter the circle in a way that is faithful to reason and the human experience.  One way, perhaps, has to do not so much with a small gap but with a gaping, insatiable hole inside of us that longs not just for safety or passing along our genes, but longs for God.  Longs to know God and be known.  Longs to love and be loved and be known by this Love.  
In one year, this little girl will be kneeling at the alter in a beautiful white dress and there will not be the gap that there is now.  It will be filled by an adult tooth she will use to bite down on the transubstantiated broken body of our Lord.  At seven, she will probably be thinking about how she looks like a princess in her dress.  She will not apprehend much of what is happening.  And this will be His will.
Six years ago when I was ministering on the streets of Chicago, a woman told me not to give apples to the homeless because so often they don’t have teeth or the teeth they have are too weak to bite through the skin.  In some ways, it is almost cruel to give them sustenance that they cannot take in.  It’s strange when the plight of a situation hits you not because of the large obvious consequence but a small one.  I couldn’t conceptualize not having a roof, but not being able to eat an apple?  The thought flooded my heart with sorrow.  I did not know how yet to grieve the bigger loss.  Perhaps God gave me this small one to practice on.  
I realize that Genesis does not actually say that the fruit that Adam ate was an apple, but suppose for a moment it was.  God could have chosen not to give Adam teeth, and the story would be much different if he had stood there gumming the fruit like a fool.  But God chose to give him teeth. Strong, healthy, unfallen teeth with sharp incisors to pierce the skin of the fruit, to separate, to take it in.  And I wonder what it would have been like if Adam was okay with the gaps and didn’t grasp for this knowledge of good and evil too early.  Or what if he had used his imagination to fill in the gaps, for now, with speculations about why a loving God had said no, not yet.  Perhaps they would have been mostly false, but maybe they would have sufficed until the time of not yet, until things he could not yet imagine would be revealed.  Maybe he could have slowed down enough to pause and see the beauty of the tree with gratitude in his heart, without trying to apprehend it with his mind or mouth.
Isaiah 52:14 tells us that Christ’s “appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--.”  I know at this point, I am taking this so far, it is almost ridiculous, but the truth is, amidst the floggings and the blows, I am sure that Jesus lost some teeth, and maybe He spit them out or maybe in His gasping cries He swallowed one.  I imagine His mouth now, swollen and bloody.  I see it calling out to the Father, begging for mercy, not for Himself, but on behalf of those who are watching Him die in agony, unmoved.  We know not what we do.  And we don’t.  We have no bloody clue.  If I was there, I would have been among those who went home after witnessing His final cry, to prepare and eat my Shabbat dinner, to get on with my religious life.  But more and more, by His grace, I am feeling the urge to stay, to linger, to obey the call I hear to look at the tree.  Look at the tree.  There is no one like our God.  

1 comment:

Martyn Wendell said...

wow. thank you for writing, Natasha.