Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
After harvesting an overabundance of tomatoes from our vegetable garden, my wife and I made homemade spaghetti sauce. We blanched each of the tomatoes and pureed them into a sauce. Then we let the sauce simmer for several hours while adding garlic and onions, oregano and basil, Italian seasoning and parsley, and more. In the end we had our first homemade spaghetti sauce.
This was my first time making tomato sauce, so I am by no means an expert, but it seems to me one of the most important parts of making the sauce is allowing all of the ingredients to simmer for a long period of time. It takes time for the flavors to blend and become something more than any of the individual ingredients. When the sauce is done, it tastes different than any particular ingredient by itself. If you focus and concentrate, you may be able to pick out one flavor or another, but it's difficult to isolate each of the individual flavors.
This struck me as a good analogy for how we think about God. God is a mystery greater than any human mind can comprehend. To help our human minds understand the mystery of God we use various images. Each of our images of God compare God to a specific concrete reality with which our human minds are familiar. We say that God is like a father and God is like a mother and God is like a spouse. We understand that God is like a rock and God is like a shepherd. We recognize that God is a lord and that God is a teacher. We sing that God will raise us up on eagle's wings and Jesus is the bread of life and living water. We say that God is just, merciful, loving, faithful. And this is only scratching the surface of the images available to us from our Tradition.
Each of these images is like an ingredient in our spaghetti sauce. Each ingredient is important and the sauce would not be the same if one of the ingredients was missing. Similarly, each of the images of God is important and our understanding of God would be incomplete were it lacking one of these images. It would not be right to understand God as a father without also understanding how God is a mother. We can never understand God as judge without also considering God's mercy.
Our understanding of God must blend together all of these images. In the end our complete understanding of God is more than the sum of the images. When we consider God and concentrate on a specific aspect, we may be able to distinguish one of the images from the others. But it's no easier to separate one image of God than it is to separate one ingredient from the sauce. Like a good spaghetti sauce has many flavors that blend together in this one new flavor, our understanding of God consists of many images which blend together into one attempt to understand the great mystery that is God.
Everyone who makes spaghetti sauce will make it a little bit different. There are some elements that are nearly always included, but others may be unique to certain cooks. Some may use extra garlic while others may use more mushrooms. Some may prefer meatballs while others may prefer sausage. While the mystery of God is universal and unchanging, each of our imperfect understandings of that mystery will be subtly different. We each relate to God in different ways and our personalities, experiences, talents, interests, and wounds will lead us to relate more easily to certain aspects of God while struggling to relate to other aspects of God. I have a very good relationship with my dad so I easily relate to God as father. When I married my wife I began to especially relate to the image of God as spouse. Growing up in a suburban neighborhood without much experience in a rural environment, it's more difficult for me to relate to the image of God as a shepherd.
The mystery of God is vast enough that every human being can find some aspect of God to which he or she can relate. The mystery of God is deep enough that no matter how much we think we understand, we always can find some new aspect that could take our understanding of God to a new level. Whether you are newly baptized or caring for great grandchildren, you still have the opportunity to learn more about the mystery that is God. I think this is also part of the reason we relate to God as a people in community and not only as individuals. As I interact with other believers, I am exposed to other other perspectives and new ways of understanding the mystery. It's not unlike swapping recipes after experiencing a new cuisine.
For spaghetti sauce to be successful, the flavors have to simmer. Is not enough for us to develop a deep understanding of one image of God and completely neglect all the others. It's not enough to give passing consideration to each without taking time to contemplate them deeply. We must let them simmer. We need to take time in meditation to allow the various images to come together and form an understanding of God that is greater than the sum of its parts. We cannot limit ourselves to understanding God through one or even a few images. That would be idolatry. Instead, we ponder the various ways that God has revealed himself to us and allow them to blend together so we understand the mystery as best as our human minds are able. And when all the flavors come together, it sure does taste good!