Physical Representations of the Unseen

A ring… a tattoo… a crucifix… an ornate cathedral… a bracelet… a bible… a letter… a song…

Sometimes, during difficult times, we cling tightly to a physical representation of an intangible truth. Sometimes, that’s all we can do when the world around us makes no sense and what we see or feel doesn’t align with what we know.

We make physical acts of worship, remembrance, and promises or commitments that remind us of what is real, but unseen. God created us in his image in such a way that a desire to bring order to chaos, by creating something new from what we see, is at the core of our being. It is how our Creator is portrayed from the beginning of time. We see this characteristic in Genesis 1:2, where an image is painted of his spirit hovering (moving/shaking) over the surface of an unformed planet earth, just as an artist would assess the materials with which he has to work, before calling it into order.

We all create in some way, and we cling to some form of created thing that has meaning to us. It’s not idolatry to assign worth or value to a created thing… it’s a physical representation of a spiritual truth. I will be prayerful at times, earnestly desiring to be in silence to communicate with my heavenly Father, unable to focus unless I do… but at other times, I need to set an alarm… wear a cross bracelet very tight around my wrist… as a reminder that I need to make time… a reminder of where my focus should be.

We see this over and over again throughout biblical history. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Solomon… and many others created physical reminders that could be observed and touched; these physical things served to help recall God’s faithfulness.

My oldest son, Samuel, is energetic, loving… and crazy.

Really, he approaches life a lot like I do: run and jump first, then figure out where to land.

I remember one evening when he was four… he was playing with his older sister… got mad and hit her. We talked for a while about why it’s important not to physically react out of anger, unless it’s in order to protect someone from harm. It led to a much longer conversation (honestly, we didn’t just talk… I also taught him how to really punch, his hit was more like a slap)… and it ended with one of my most favorite decisions I’ve made as a parent:

I Knighted him.

I mean… I really made him a knight. One night when we were by ourselves I had a ceremony, made him take an oath… he loved it. He now refers to himself as a “Moscrip Knight.” Part of the ceremony was me presenting him with a cross welded by his great-grandfather, given to me by my dad… and telling him that it will be his, but he can’t have it until he is ready for it.

Sometimes, when he has a hard time behaving, or does something that gets him in trouble… he’ll come up to me right before going to bed and whisper, “Hey, dad, can I hold the Moscrip Knight cross for a little while?” I take it out and give it to him, he’ll stare at it and walk around the house with it, very carefully showing it to his sister and little brother… then he’ll bring it back to me (he’s amazingly excited about making his little brother, William, a knight when he’s old enough).

It’s a physical representation/reminder of how he wants to be, and it helps him feel close to me when he is having a difficult time or feels like he has failed (he thinks pretty deeply).

A while ago, I asked one of my friends:

“Do you think we subconsciously create physical acts of worship when we sense a closeness to God in order to have a visible representation of that closeness when we feel distant?”

There is a tendency in our culture to have this inexplicable urge to dispense with physical acts of worship. We love the spiritual acts, even singing is okay… and we don’t get too worried about giving money, but… Cathedrals, temples, prayer beads, candles, liturgy or any ritual are often simply dismissed as meaningless or empty tradition. I understand the mindset behind this; ten years ago I would have expressed the same sentiment. However, this idea of throwing out the physical manifestations of our love for Christ is more rooted in self-centeredness that our personal form of worship is better than our predecessors, than it is in our spiritual pursuit.

If we believe God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present… then why do we try so desperately to separate the physical from the spiritual? How could we attain an honest progression of beliefs, if we believe the spiritual and physical do not impact each other? If we are truly seeking after God, our physical actions become the manifestation of our spiritual desires. There is no sacred vs. secular… there is no physical vs. spiritual. The physical life we lead becomes empirical evidence of the unseen/spiritual life to which we adhere.

This has affected my view so much on items I used to see as a “waste of time” or “waste of resources.” After all… who am I to criticize that “big, gaudy, cathedral” that was built hundreds of years ago by a skilled craftsman who desired to inspire awe and reverence to God through his work? Perhaps, there will be a time when something I’ve created out of desperation to be close to God will inspire another person to keep going… to persevere… even to worship God.

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