Thursday, May 9, 2013

Four Faces of God


The readings for Morning Prayer on the Feast of the Ascension included the passage from Ezekiel where he was confronted by heavenly creatures bearing the image of God, and whose heads had four faces: human, ox, lion, and eagle.  It’s an image similar to one found in Revelation, and it reminded me of how often it has been used to symbolize the four gospels.  I never can remember which gospel goes to which face, and this morning I began to wonder about other symbols.  For instance, whether the four faces more fully represent our humanity, or what it means to be made in the image of God, and to bear that image into the world?  I have no doubt that others have covered the same ground, but, since I am unfamiliar with whatever they had to say, here goes my own take.

We’ve become accustomed to the language of Freud and Jung, who parsed our personalities into their component parts, and farmed them out to psych labs and instrument designers who have given us all kinds of fun ways to pigeonhole ourselves with interesting names and acronyms.  I am, myself, an INTJ, if anyone cares.  Perhaps God gave Ezekiel another way to look at what it means to be fully human.

We have the human face we present to the world, the one that enables others to recognize us, that enables us to express ourselves, and that both entices and offers judgments of everything and everyone within our sphere of awareness. It is an enigmatic face that both reveals and hides, and it can never permit full knowledge of self and others.  Yet, perhaps it reveals enough and hides enough to make do. 

There are also parts of us that behave in more primitive, instinctive ways.  Like an ox, we can be plodding, not too bright, a carrier of burdens, and hauler of whatever we have been hitched to, passively munching and working our way through life, sometimes wondering if there might be more to it.  Lions and eagles are different.  Like a lion we can prowl for prey, not suffer fools gladly, impose our wills on everything including other lions, if we can.  Some part of us is able to gracefully soar like an eagle grace into the unlimited vault of sky, seeing all with perfect clarity and focus, swooping to capture what we want before it knows that it’s been taken.  But we will eat road kill if necessary.  We can be all of these, and we are to one degree or another.

Oxen, lions and eagles are generously endowed to do well what they are able to do.  They have nothing to hide and no shame to feel.  There is no duplicity in them.  Yet they constrained to their assigned places in the order of creation, fated to live it out within the most limited of choices to be made.  They are moderated, perhaps integrated, behind our human face, our complicated, many layered, duplicitous human face, not as demons to be purged nor as Jungian shadows to be brought to the surface, though they might be both.  In a more healthy sense, they are important parts of who we are.  We need them to be complete.  God knows that.  Our inmost parts are not hidden from him, however well we might hide them from ourselves, and he showed them to Ezekiel, not to frighten but to demonstrate that they are essential to who we are as bearers of the image of God.

Perhaps there is more to be said at another time.  We shall see.

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