Monday, April 21, 2008


I spent much of Saturday afternoon drawing our ceilings and walls.

No, not drawing on, but drawing.

I’m in a drawing class and this week’s assignment is to use color pencils to draw a corner of a room.

To get the contrasts right, I also spent much of the afternoon squinting at the ceiling and walls. It’s a common artist’s technique. The broad outlines, contrasts and intensities of the scene become more apparent by squinting.

Squinting prevents the artist from becoming lost in and confused by details. (Try squinting at my drawing posted here.)

So it was that evening, as eleven of us sat down for our Passover Seder, (my wife is Jewish; I am a Quaker), I found myself “squinting” at the Passover story about tyranny, oppression and freedom.

And then there was God’s retribution on the Egyptians. “Why,” someone asked, “would a just God punish even innocent Egyptians?” (Death to the first born, plagues, frogs, hailstorms, locust, turning the Nile to blood etc.)

“It’s part of the mystery,” someone else said, rather lamely I felt.

Time to squint, I thought. Squint at the story, squint at the ritual, squint at history, squint at religion, squint at humanity.

What do you see? A God cast in a role that is all too human. The need for tradition, for an enduring, powerful story even if it no longer quite fits our needs for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation

Squint to see the celebration of freedom. Squint at the symbolic foods, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs etc.

And when Christmas rolls around, squint at the commercialism, squint at the Wise Men and the virgin birth. Squint to find meaning, not in the details, shaped and reshaped by time, but in the broad sweep of belief and human need.

In these times, if we are to understand religion, we must squint, or we will be forced to wink — or be struck blind.

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