Asleep in a sparsely furnished bedroom in a Nepali flat I became aware of something running over my uncovered body. My mind jumped quickly into action to interpret this audacious invasion of my night privacy, and presented my now-conscious mind with an image of the invader: it was a pink jelly shoe.
A cerise jelly shoe, made of rubber strips, cool, flexible and waterproof. Was running across my stomach and up my arm, and gone.
I shot out of bed, fumbled for a light switch and my glasses (not sure in what order), and looked for the offending piece of footwear. No shoe. Nothing pink at all. But half-way up the wall, moving at speed, was a gecko. An ordinary Nepali gecko who probably thought of me as the intruder.
I often think about this encounter when I’m trying to discern what God is up to. We receive impressions, intuitions, images and inexplicable urges in the process of trying to allow the Holy Spirit to direct us into the newness that is coming. But if it is truly a new newness, something that hasn’t been before, then our finite human brains have no way of conceptualizing or naming it. All our minds can do is find an approximate comparison based on our previous experience for the idea that’s housed in the mind of God.
Which is what happened to me in Nepal. All my brain could do when my body got in the way of the gecko’s path was interpret what had happened as closely as possible in the light of its existing bank of experience. And my brain decided to choose a jelly shoe as an approximate comparison to convey the idea of a creature that was rubbery, quick, flexible and probably impregnated with glitter! An amazing piece of neur0-gymnastics….
And a great metaphor for what goes on when God tries to communicate to us what is in his mind for our future. He has in mind a gecko – but we’ve never seen a gecko. So we perceive a jelly shoe. Some important information is passed on in this transaction – something new we’ve never seen, something moving across a landscape, lithe motion, and robust but malleable sparkly material. But the facts cannot be accurately translated and misunderstandings are bound to arise – we might try to put the gecko on our foot and wear it to the beach or to the ball.
It seems this is the nature of God-human communications, even at their most finely-tuned. We see it in the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. God had in mind a new, unrepeatable kind of human being and revealed him to the prophets, who reached for words and metaphors to express what they understood. But people had never met a Messiah, a Godman. So they interpreted the prophecy in the light of their bank of experience, and came up with the idea of a Maccabean Jelly Shoe Saviour rather than a Messianic Gecko One.
Trying – with many of you – to discern the medium and the message for present and future generations, I am increasingly aware of the disconnect between what God shows us and what we understand. We need to handle our intimations circumspectly, aware of all that will be lost in translation. And we can expect to to be surprised because when the newness comes we will see both the authenticity and accuracy of the communication, as well as the difference between the idea we received and the emerged reality, which will I expect be as distinct from each other as a gecko from a jelly shoe.