Hints of the Big Picture

When someone asks if you believe in God, they want you to describe the specific concepts you use to approximate your current perception of the big picture. However, a gulf looms between language and the aggregate of our memories, plans, hopes, fears, comforts, challenges, and preferences. It is not unlike the contrast between the cheeseburger pictured on the menu board and the one served to you in wax paper or what separates the glowing movie review from the two hours squandered watching a stranger’s thinly realized dream. So much of the trouble in our lives (personal, social, local, national, global) falls apart in this apparently insignificant space.

The question, which actually reveals more about the person asking than it can possibly reveal about the person who is trying to answer, boils the ineffable down in order to separate us into our neat, familiar tribes. It reduces the conundrums of the ages down to the equivalent of asking which football team you think will win the championship, which operating software you are running, or which discount retail store brand you embrace.

The inquirer is usually fishing for a simple yes or no response. Based on your answer, you might find yourself being guided down a simple decision tree to drill down to one of the traditional belief systems and possibly down to specific subcategories to determine where you fit. But all these distinctions seem to be factors of our capacity for language specificity. Being creatures and therefore created in some mysterious manner (isn’t sexual reproduction mysterious enough), it seems there would exist serious limitations for our minds to ever comprehend the big picture fully – not that we are incapable of getting hints of it. Isn’t this why we have poetry, literature, music, science, and math? But attempting to communicate these hints – even trying to pass them on with noble intentions – generates sparks from the friction of words grinding against one another.

Does a leaf need to have clear concepts of twigs, branches, trunks, and roots in order to have a complete and satisfying experience of its brief life? Maybe it is enough to just enjoy the pull of the sun, the comfort of the breeze and the other leaves swaying with you, the unexpected drama of dusk, and perhaps even the lilting descent to the cold ground.