"Preach the gospel at all times.
If Necessary, use words."
(Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.)
For those of us who preach--and seek to live--the gospel of the unity of God, interconnectedness of the cosmos, and oneness of humanity, this is a lovely reminder.
Words are lovely, and sometimes point us towards the path.
This, after all, is the very stuff of theology, quite literally: words about God.
For Muslims and Jews, after all,
God is revealed through Words.
For devout Hindus,
one aspect of relating to the Divine is through sacred songs.
Even in the Christian tradition,
God’s “word” becomes flesh, through the person of Christ.
But the Logos, the word of God, is still there.
The Qur’an contains a wise parable about the insufficiency of words, even words about God:
“Though all the trees in the earth were pens,
and the sea-seven seas after it to replenish it,
yet would the Words of God not be spent.
God is All-mighty, All-wise.”
Yet there are times that words about God are not merely insufficient, they become in fact veils.
What a tragedy to confuse words about God with the reality of the Beloved.
This is one of the enduring lessons of many religious traditions:
in the Taoist tradition we are told that the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.
The great Muslim mystic, Ibn ‘Arabi, once stated that we end up worshipping the god
that we have created in our own beliefs, before we can transcend that idol-god to worship the real God.
All too often, we as humans end up worshipping the words and conceptions we ourselves have made up, making of them the last, most seductive idol.
We see this so frequently, when religious people spew venom on others,
because we find fellow human beings in violations of the words about god that we have constructed in our imagination.
How loftier would it be to begin acknowledging that our words about god are at best approximations,
pointing to the invisible target
that encompasses, transcends, and unites the whole of creation.
How beautiful would religion (and religious human beings be) if we began by shattering the idols that each of us have made of god.
In the context of the Qur’an, Abraham go through stages of worshipping the stars, the moon, and the sun before arriving at the true God.
May we be like Abraham, breaking the idols, to arrive at the One.
May we get to preach the gospel of the oneness of God, and unity of humanity.
And if necessary,
only when necessary,
may we use words.