Tumbling in the Sand
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'” – John 6:68-69
In the library at the Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia, there is a giant stained glass window. The watercolored image above is of said window. It is beautiful, isn’t it? Full of reds and purples and blues and yellows. Some say it looks like the crucifixion. Some say the resurrection. I think it looks some like creation being born in the beginning … or maybe the Israelites being lead through the sea by a pillar of fire and smoke. Almost everyone has something different to say about what it looks like. That is, except the artist who made the window. The artist made the window with no particular story or scene in mind. Instead, the artist made it to evoke the imaginations of others to make meaning for themselves.
I think about this when I read John 6. Especially at this point in the narrative. All the way along, Jesus has been speaking these amazing, beautiful words: words about bread and Spirit and flesh and life and abundance and resurrection. Words full of mystery and wonder. Words you can really sink your teeth into… And then, at this point, people react. Most of them, it seems, leave. They find the words offensive, difficult, icky even. But Peter calls the words full of life, holy, compelling.
What a difference! And the difference seems to be all about this thing called belief—or what we could call faith, because we like to think of belief as such an academic-y thing, but here in John it’s not that. It’s a lot more like the imagination of those looking at that stained glass window. It’s something that gives meaning, substance, depth to things. It’s something that calls to mystery and wonder. It’s not something that necessarily denies the reality of life (I know the window isn’t supposed to necessarily look like anything, for instance), but it invites us into honouring and thinking beyond the flat leaded window, beyond the strange, “icky” words, beyond the literal flesh in front of us—to the Spirit of it, to the mystery uncaptured by it, to the reality that always dwells beyond what can be explained.
The stained glass window at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is named the Doberstein Window and you can learn more about it and order prints from the seminary’s page: http://ltsp.edu/doberstein-window