About

Background Information: In the late 5th century, an unnamed Greek-speaking theologian noticed a problem within the church:  people took metaphors way too literally.  Christians heard descriptions of God as the great king and they began to believe that God was a dude sitting on a throne.  Hearing of Christ as the light of the world, they would picture him wandering around shining like a lamp.  And so the whole point of theological metaphor, to point toward the mysterious which cannot be described, was lost.  Instead, people began to conceive the divine to be as imperfect as the objects that they used to described God.
     Claiming the pseudonym of Dionysius, an Athenian converted by Paul on top of the Areopagus in Acts 17, the theologian set about trying to correct how people spoke and thought about God through several books.  In The Celestial Hierarchy, Pseudo-Dionysius comments that the lowliest, most profane, and incongruous imagery, such as a worm (Psalm 22:6), honors the divine by forcing viewers to look beyond the superficial and the literal and ponder the divine mysteries to which the imagery but points.  This blog, therefore, honors the divine by challenging us to find the most disgusting, nauseating, grimy imagery in creation and use it as window to the divine.
     How it works: During the Season of Lent, each day (except for Sundays, which are not technically part of Lent, but are little Easters) either Chase or Ben acts as the Challenger and picks an image (verbal and conceptual images count, too) which they think is absolutely revolting and in no way a reflection of the divine.  The challenger presents the image to other person, the Mysterious Theologian (read the Pseudo-Dionysius quotation). The Mysterious Theologian has one day to write a prayer using that imagery for God. Upon successful completion, the Mysterious Theologian becomes the Challenger and vice versa.

“So, then, forms, even those drawn from the lowliest matter, can be used, not unfittingly, with regard to heavenly beings. Matter, after all, owes its subsistence to absolute beauty and keeps, throughout its earthly ranks, some echo of intelligible beauty. Using matter, one may be lifted up to the immaterial archetypes. Of course one must be careful to use the similarities as dissimilarities, as discussed, to avoid one-to-one correspondences, to make the appropriate adjustments as one remembers the great divide between the intelligible and the perceptible.
“We will find that the mysterious theologians employ these things not only to make known the ranks of heaven but also to reveal something of God himself. They sometimes use the most exalted imagery, calling him for instance sun of righteousness, star of the morning which rises into the mind, clear and conceptual light. Sometimes they use more intermediate, down-to-earth images. They call him the blazing fire which does not cause destruction, water filling up life and, so to speak, entering the stomach and forming inexhaustible streams. Sometimes the images are of the lowliest kind, such as sweet-smelling ointment and corner stone. Sometimes the imagery is even derived from animals so that God is described as a lion or a panther, a leopard or a charging bear. Add to this what seems the lowliest and most incongruous of all, for the experts in things divine gave him the form of a worm.
“In this way the wise men of God, exponents of hidden inspiration, separated the “Holy of Holies” from defilement by anything in the realm of the imperfect or the profane. They therefore honor the dissimilar shape so that the divine things remain inaccessible to the profane and so that all those with a real wish to see the sacred imagery may not dwell on the types as true. So true negations and the unlike comparisons with their last echoes offer due homage to the divine things. For this reason there is nothing ridiculous about representing heavenly beings with similarities which are dissimilar and incongruous, for the reasons mentioned. And I myself might not have been stirred from this difficulty to my current inquiry, to an uplifting through a precise explanation of these sacred truths, had I not been troubled by the deformed imagery used by scripture in regard to the angels. My mind was not permitted to dwell on imagery so inadequate, but was provoked to get behind the material show, to get accustomed to the idea of going beyond appearances to those upliftings which are not of this world.”
The Celestial Hierarchy, Pseudo-Dionysius,
translated by Colm Luibheid and Paul Rorem

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