Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Sometimes I muse about cartoons. They're such a weird art-form, where there's a picture of this thing that doesn't look anything like the real thing it represents, but somehow our brains go through some kind of instant, subconscious process, and everybody agrees that Mickey Mouse is a mouse--even though I promise you I have never seen a mouse that looked like him. I don't know whether we get socialized to do this, or if there's some other intrinsic human factor that causes this to happen, but anyway, sometimes I marvel about it.

This phenomenon or ability is all well and good--probably helpful, even, in most situations. But sometimes it leaves you a little misinformed, when you're in a situation where you don't know what the real thing looks like. For example, the World's-Cutest-Niece-Hannah has a book in which a cartoon horse and a cartoon duck appear on the same page, but the cartoons are so stylised that she thinks, based on the other duck drawings she's seen, that the horse is a duck.

Then yesterday Sister-in-Law-Lu (who one day I might just call "Sister-in-Lu") sent us some more Hannah stories:
We went to the zoo on Saturday for the first time since Hannah was a wee little thing. She was stunned by all the children, and it took her awhile to even notice the animals. But then, maybe while we were looking at the exotic sheep, something clicked, and she started to get interested. The big tortoises were especially intriguing, prompting Hannah to say her new word of the week: turtle. And then there were the bears, which completely rocked Hannah's world. At first she looked confused when we called the grizzly "bear." But then she processed it, and she started saying it too. After we got home, Hannah had a new interest in her "real" bear (as opposed to teddy bear) books-ones she didn't used to care about-like the Eric Carle illustrations ("Brown bear, brown bear." "Polar bear, polar bear.") and "Bear snores on." She also got really excited about Ebenezer, the sprawling brown bear who sits on her dresser.
This story, in combination with another blog I was reading yesterday, reminded me of the wonder that sometimes happens--dare I say should happen--when one stumbles into the reality of God.

It seems like we can grow up hearing about God, and even believing in God, but sometimes all we really have in our heads is some kind of cartoon-y version which might be sort of okay if we had a basis of reality to work from first, but ends up getting us really off track if we don't. Some books (like the ones in Hannah's library with bears in them)--or preachers or teachers or blogs or television shows or . . . whatever . . . present a more realistic picture of things than others. You can end up with the "God as indulgent parent" caricature in your head, or the "God as sadistic, brimstone-hurling monster" one, and neither one do justice to who God really is.

And then you have an experience where God shows up for you personally, and someone points it out to you, and you can be either terrified and run away ("Bears! Augh!") or you can be properly awestruck ("Oh! This is what a bear is! I had no idea!"). And then you can be drawn to the books and the people who were best able to show you what God looked like in the first place.

5 comments:

Mark said...

> cartoons. They're such a weird art-form, where there's a picture of this thing that doesn't look anything like the real thing it represents, but somehow our brains go through some kind of instant, subconscious process

http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Comics-Invisible-Scott-Mccloud/dp/006097625X

> then you have an experience where God shows up for you personally, and someone points it out to you, and you can be either terrified and run away ("Bears! Augh!") or you can be properly awestruck ("Oh! This is what a bear is! I had no idea!")

Reminds me of Sam's Gamgee's experience seeing "oliphaunts" for the first time.

Jeff said...

To further complicate matters, God is of course infinite and endless... We could theoretically create an exhaustive list of everything that is true about real bears.
But I don't think we could do this of God. This leads me to the question: Are all of our versions of God just cartoon versions?

Jenn said...

Mark--thanks for the link. And yeah, I hadn't thought of the Oliphaunts thing, but it is similar indeed.

Jeff--I was tempted to drag this post out and go into all that, but analogies about God always break down at some point . . . which is kind of what you're saying. The analogies themselves are caricatures. However, I still believe we can have moments of epiphany that show us an aspect of God more clearly and more "real-ly" than we have experienced Him heretofore.

Anonymous said...

You could take that analogy further ... you see the bear in the zoo - and then you see the bear in the wild. In the zoo we can look and process things easily. But the wild - where the bear really is a bear - that's even more exciting.

So we can see God at work in your own life but then we can see him at work in the world and realise it's not just about us. And then when you really see him through his word you realise that he is infinite and his thoughts far above your thoughts and his ways above your ways. He condescends to your life but the reality is he is beyond everything in this worldy sphere and universe. Yet we can have that intimate relationship.

The bear is more than what we see in the cage ... God is more, far more than what we see in our lives, the closest we can get to him is through his word where the truth of his salvation is revealed and we can expose our minds and souls to grappling with the eternal.
Catherine

Jenn said...

Catherine--you're so right. I actually thought of taking it farther in another post, but I'm glad you did it instead, because I think you were a lot more efficient with your words than I would've been! ;)

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