Saturday, April 18, 2015
Artichokes: A Metaphor for Religion
The Garden of Grace is ablaze with color, flowers, fruits and vegetables, birds and lizards! I'm especially enamored by the artichokes. While I enjoy artichoke hearts, I am not one who eats them roasted whole. This artichoke plant was planted as an experiment. It struggled for a few years in a shady spot and was transplanted to the 'Veggie Room' - raised vegetable beds in the garden - last summer. This spring it burst into glorious, abundant bloom. I got six artichokes from the early harvests and there's a lot more coming. One part of the plant even fell down because of the weight of the artichokes atop it!
As I prepared to enjoy one of the artichokes, I also watched how the birds ate of the abundance in the garden. What an appropriate metaphor for religion! My friends are angry about the rising religious tensions and are vociferous about outlawing all religions from the public square. I keep arguing that this is not religion, this is the rise of fundamentalism. Fundamentalists exist everywhere, in every religion, creed, education, political, and moral belief system. Fundamentalists are, often, most visibly, the people who can only work in "my way or the highway" mode. Invisibly, they are the kind who, unable to live in peace with those who hold contradictory views, cause disunity and schism. They break established structures or seek to form their own little clubs and organizations. Religion, on the other hand, is like an artichoke. Religion is not just a belief system as so many seem to think today (that is fundamental religion and it exists in every major religion!). Religion is a relational experience, a journey with many others, that takes us deeper and deeper to knowing God; it is like peeling the outer layers of an artichoke except, you're not the only one peeling or roasting or enjoying it. It's like the many birds sharing one artichoke, taking turns pulling off the leaves. Each one sees a little differently, and removes a little more. This is the relational experience of religion. You lose the hardness of the edges around yourself. You're getting closer to the core. Blind eyes are opened and you get a soft heart, a heart of flesh and blood. A heart that stands in solidarity with those who're with you on this journey. A heart that is able to listen without judgment or condemnation. A heart that doesn't shrink from the giving of itself to the sinners of the world, because we are sinners too, and doesn't create artificial, human hierarchies. A heart that is faithful to the promise of the resurrection. Religious faith (and it doesn't matter which religion it is) is not the absence of doubt. Faith is the presence of grace and hope despite the struggle through life. Christian faith is also, most assuredly, the ability to extend that gift of grace to all the others whose battles may not resonate with us at all; didn't Jesus do that for us? Faith, then, is like that artichoke plant, a common thistle, plentiful everywhere. It is only when faith plunges into the grave and rises with Jesus, allowed to die down every once in a while, that it blooms to produce a soft new heart again, and yet again. That's the journey to the heart of God. Ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you, Job confidently proclaimed centuries ago. It still is true!