Everywhere we look, we see and hear reminders of God in our midst. It would be hard to get away from God if we tried. For two religions forbidden from creating idols, Judaism and Christianity sure have many images to consider, and they pop up just about everywhere.
If you tried to get through a day without a single thought about God, could you?
Visual reminders of God in some form are irresistible in art and architecture as we drive around. It would be hard to avoid all the billboards, churches, cemeteries, parks, and private schools with big signs in the names of God, Jesus, and various saints. In my neighborhood, there’s a Jewish hospital, a Catholic school, a Salvation Army, and a Lutheran outreach program.
Even if you did manage to avoid seeing the buildings and the signs, could the clothing people wear, especially religious accessories, be easily overlooked? Surely you can’t not notice the bedazzled-cross tank tops one can find at my local farmer’s market. They can be spotted from forty feet away.
Fashion has welcomed religious themes, and smartly. Home décor has much to offer as well. There seems to be no end to the selection of doves, crosses, and rainbows; as well as the trinity in paintings, mosaics, medallions and frescos.
The fleur-de-lis is a Christian design. How about the paisley? Plaid is religion neutral, although it was how clans in Scotland identified themselves. Stripes and polka dots seem pretty fair game.
But religious imagery is all around us even more subtly. Next time you see one, look closely at the patterns on oriental rugs. Do they have imagery such as the Tree of Life or patterns in fours? That may indicate Islamic themes. Do they have little cross patterns? That could indicate Christian workmanship.
There are over twenty thousand Celtic cross patterns alone, and easily two hundred thousand different cross designs, some of them with significance. For Roman Catholics, there are over ten thousand saints to choose from, and plenty of saint medallions. Icons, too, are still in style, long a tradition of the eastern churches, depicting Jesus, the Virgin and Child, or various saints.
In the far corners of my home are Black Madonna of Czestochowa icons that were somehow acquired along my travels. If the Mona Lisa has an expression that isn’t easily understood, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa is even more of an enigma. A burglar upon seeing her might just immediately admit defeat and move on. She has a presence that fills a room with a careful, watchful eye and holds a stare that means business. There are a range of expressions on religious icons, but the ones I have in my own home say, “Yeah, you might not want to mess with me.”
Once in a while, Godly images appear in nature, sometimes in a cloud formation, sometimes on a rock or in a tree. For Christians, when nature doesn’t reveal God, sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich can reveal the image of Jesus, a window mark might take on the likeness of the Virgin Mary, or even a cinnamon bun could hold a secret, as in the famous 1996 “Nun Bun.” My research hasn’t yet uncovered a Jewish sighting of a menorah or Star of David in the natural world, but examples certainly may exist.
As it relates to sightings of religious images in other religious communities, I have read that the word “Allah,” meaning God, has been reported to have appeared to some in the natural world, and that in 2010 there was a devastating fire in the Mormon community at the Provo Tabernacle in Utah, in which the only thing that survived was the clear image of Jesus in a painting, with the rest of the painting completely destroyed, causing some reflection and pause.
If God is not around us visually, there is plenty of God in the airwaves. With nearly two thousand Christian radio stations in the U.S. alone, a long drive anywhere allows a person to listen to plenty of God. Thousands of hymns and songs are written and played about God.
The Internet has increasingly more to offer as well, including radio stations, apps and games; all sorts of lessons, streaming sermons, chat groups, dating groups, and even iGod, a sort of tool one can use to have a fake conversation with God, with “Repent” as the “Submit” button.
Back to the question of whether it would be possible to get away from thoughts of God if one tried, one could possibly try visiting Estonia. With possibly the lowest rating as a religious society (a Gallup survey reports that only 14% of the people feel that religion matters), it might be possible to get some distance from thoughts of God.
But, whatever you do, don’t try to escape God in Egypt: God is hovering at 100% in terms of importance to people’s lives, according to that same survey. I assume that includes the Coptic Christians there as well as the Muslims. Having been a part-time resident in the Gulf Region for a few years until the recent Arab Spring, and having spent long periods in North Africa, I can confirm that in the Muslim world God is well represented, especially called to mind five times a day by the public calls to prayer. Even as a Jew or a Christian, hearing these calls to prayer brings front and center the opportunity to reach out to God. Perhaps those living within earshot of church bells can relate to the moments when God is called to mind out of seemingly nowhere.
In terms of senses, we may be limited to sight and sound when it comes to God. Not too many Godly smells come to mind, and nothing is held out as having that “heavenly feel of God” or that unique flavor of God we could buy as a seasoning.
For many, God is almost escapable in the cities, malls, and urban centers. Perhaps it is when we are alone, walking through a forest, standing on the peak of a mountain, riding a bike along a coast, kayaking through some waves, or sitting still in the sunlight for a few minutes that the point of religious imagery becomes fairly mute.
For many, those moments reveal all the God one can ever imagine.
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