What Color is God?

Posted by on 02.27.08 | 9 Comments
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I have noticed over the years (I bet we all have) that most color images of God end up emphasizing light and even whiteness. The whiteness business may be racist, or at least ethnocentric, but I am reluctant to ascribe the lightness theme to that cause, first because many of the biblical authors who came up with these images were at least olive skinned, and perhaps darker, and second because even in Africa it is possible to find color images of the divine that hearken to the theme of light and even white. I think rather this tendency comes from being a diurnal species whose primary way of relating to the world is through vision, which requires light to work effectively, and often the more the better. Moreover, we have an inordinate attachment to our brains. We gain mastery over our environment first by understanding it, and then by inventing fantastic gizmos which turn that understanding into control. It makes perfect sense therefore that we conflate those two facts about us into color metaphors for God that equate relationship with understanding, and understanding with sight. So, God comes out as pure light, and often pure white.

But ask an owl what color image it most associates with God and I bet euros to field mice that you get something dark, maybe even black. Owls are nocturnal creatures and even though they have excellent eyesight they relate to the world, especially when hunting, more by hearing than vision. So it isn’t much of a guess to suggest that for them God would be the color of the enfolding night that covers, protects and sustains them as they make their way in the world.

I finally admitted to myself a couple of weeks ago as I sang a hymn in church which goes in part: “In Him there is no darkness at all” that I am with owls. I just don’t like that image of God with no darkness. It doesn’t even sound mentally or spiritually healthy to me, though I realize that I have to misinterpret the text in order to conclude that. Certainly light is fine, but too much of it feels Las Vegas strip garish, or more, it feels sterile, cold, even polar to me. Since I long ago gave up trying to understand God – which to me is like an ameba trying to understand a human – the notion of needing enough light to “see” is no longer for me all that relevant a metaphor. The color metaphor that works for me is dark, inky, even black, the deep dark blue of the late summer sky after sunset in those few minutes before the very last bit of light fades, the color of rich black soil whose fecundity you can not only smell and feel, but see. It is precisely the enfolding darkness, the womb-like darkness that doesn’t just surround, but truly envelopes you, that to me is the color of God.

I realize that I am in a very small minority in imagining God in this way; a few mystics maybe and that is about it. But I do wonder how many people are really happy with that “light perpetual” thing. So here is a question, what color is God for you?

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