Saturday, July 22, 2006


A woman in a pink dress was sitting quietly at a picnic table at the river's edge. There was a book on the bench beside her, and she was gazing at the water. I walked by quietly, eyes averted, not wanting to disturb a fellow solitary's peaceful Sunday morning. I was heading toward a stalk of involuting queen anne's lace across the path when she called to me.

"Excuse me," she said, "I saw you taking pictures earlier down the path, and I was hoping you'd pass by. Come here. Look."

The picnic bench was in a little grassy clearing on the bank where a storm culvert opens into the river. I went up to the edge and peered down into the bronze water. It took a few seconds to pick out a shadowy form drifting just below the surface. Soon, a head broke the surface.

"Oh, my !" I exclaimed. "It's huge !"

"It must be twenty inches across," she said.

"I wonder how old it is !"

The head dipped back below the surface and the enormous turtle paddled about in slow circles. I lay prone in the rough grass and took some pictures. The woman in pink gazed at the water. The wizened face broke the surface again.

It appeared to be looking at us, appraising us. We looked back. Long minutes passed.

"I'm very interested in symbols," the woman murmured. I've been thinking of how his head resembles a heart."

"Yes, it does," I agreed, embarrassed to reveal my far less metaphysical thought: that the head resembled the heads of "little grays," the space aliens of abducting-and-probing fame.

I took a few more photos, thanked her, and went on my way. Symbols, eh ? I, too, had been grappling with symbols and metaphors recently, but not in a good way. I considered her turtle-head-as-heart image. It imported the whole, classic heart-and-head, feeling-and-intellect dichotomy, the idea of being encased in a protective shell, and a goodly dollop of the ancient and venerable. If a metaphor is a vehicle that "bears over," this was a veritable U-Haul of goodies.

Oh, and, of course, there's love. The heart as a symbol of love. Heart STANDS FOR love, just as "heart" stands for the palpitating muscle in just under my ribs. Or XXX OOO on a valentine stand for kisses and hugs. : ) -- See ?

I thought of the message on the billed cap. "I (heart) Jesus." That brought me back to my recent, renewed attempt to find within the language of Christianity, my native theo-tongue, something that would suffice to articulate the numinous mystery at the -- heh! -- heart of existence. Jesus was, after all, the Logos. A word, a symbol, a metaphor, someone who stood for something else. An icon. Or, on a bad day, an idol. I'd been listening to a talk on Christian theology, on the historical nuances of the idea of Jesus "dying for our sins" in light of five or six different models of justice and redemption. The talk made me peevish and impatient. What did this have to do with the ground of being ? Words, words, words, arguments, deconstructions, convoluted hermeneutings, thesisizing and anthithesisizing. It's enough to give a girl chest pains. Radiating down the left arm, the sinister arm, the heart arm.

A syllogism began to take shape in my mind:

God is Love.
Love is a heart.
A turtle is a heart.
Therefore, God is a turtle.

Now I was getting somewhere along the slippery synaptic byways of language and logic. For much does boil down to language. (Oh, the boiling byways of discourse !) Take that most simple of questions.

Do you believe in God ?.

Five little words. A long walk off a short pier ? A five step pier whose rotten boards give way after the first two steps ? Splash !

The committee that wrote the Nicene Creed wrestled with the same difficulties.

"We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God," they stipulated, a strong opening, specific, full of almost scientific precision -- but, before long they are melting into a puddle of -- no, make that sublimating into a swirling cloud of -- poetry --

God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God

I smiled. That was a nice turn of phrase. Even niftier in Latin.

Perhaps shouldn't be too hasty. I wouldn' t want to throw out the God with the Godwater.

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