‘No ideas, but in things’ W .C. Williams
As human beings, mortals of flesh, blood, time and space we are bound to the things that we see around us. It is extremely hard to explain any idea other than by using the language of things. Think of Newton’s apple, Schrodinger’s Cat or my personal favourite Ockham’s Razor – the theory that the simplest explanation of anything is most likely to be the true explanation. The image of the razor, cleanly cutting out the deadwood to leave a simple truth, an example of how we use things to explain that which is hard to grasp.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is Plato’s Cave – a theory of ideas. Plato theorised that humanity were like prisoners chained in a cave staring at the wall unable to turn around. On the wall the shadows of great fire is cast before which a puppet show is performed. Plato explained that the prisoners were literally bound to mistake the shadowy show for reality because, without turning their heads, they would know nothing of the actual form behind it. So it is in this world, he suggests, the eternal truth of things is beyond our grasp when we are incarcerated in time and space.
The irony is that the theory relies on things, fire, chains, shadows, a cave to reveal that ordinary things can’t reveal the truth. It goes to show that big ideas only work when they are tethered to small ideas, or to put it another way ‘No ideas, but in things.’
We sometimes assume that God, who is (as Monty Python reminds us) sooooo big will always reveal himself in an unmistakably huge way. A cataclysmic event or a huge revival. A miraculous healing or a massive reversal of bad fortune. But God more often reveals himself in ordinary things. The stuff that lies around us all the time. God reveals himself in (forgive the buttock clenching tweeness of this list), the birds, the trees, the sunshine, your nearest and dearest, the person who helped you yesterday, the kindness you received from someone etc etc.
And it is in Jesus that God does this most visibly. God appears in the particular in order to help us know the universal. God appears in the stable at Bethlehem, in the streets of Jerusalem, by the sea of Galilee, on the way of the cross, at Golgotha, and at the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Road to Emmaus to show us that God’s love, power, hope and salvation is for everyone. Yes, the resurrection was a pretty huge cataclyismic event, but it came about through simple things, the wood of the cross, the iron nails, the crown of thorns, the stone rolled over the door, the abandoned grave clothes.
In his dealings with the world God is particular before he is universal. His kingdom is constantly likened to things that grow beyond their size, a tiny seed that grows to be the biggest shrub, a pearl that you would sell your grandma for.
So this Holy Week and Easter allow God to speak to you in the little things. In the beauty of the Spring, the close love and care of those we cherish certainly. But also in the great times of worship we will share, tracing the way of the cross, washing feet, remembering and receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist, venerating the cross, worshipping with great joy and celebration as we recall the resurrection. God can and will speak to you through these little things as your walk with Jesus this Holy Week and Easter