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The God Behind the Gods We See
God Without Form As Portrayed in Stained Glass at
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Sierra Madre, CA


Back on June 21 (2006), I mentioned the Church of the Ascension, where I worked back in the late '70s.  In those days I considered myself an Evangelical Christian and a Western Man, with a worldview shaped by Plato, Jesus, Leonardo, and so on.

But even then, I had inklings of something more waiting for me out there.

In the 80s, I read a book called The Mists of Avalon (Amazon).  It's a retelling of the story of King Arthur, from the point of view of the women, and mainly of Morgaine (Morgan le Fey), who in Bradley's book is a priestess of the pre-Christian religion in England (read "paganism").  Rather than insisting on the "reality" of the pagan gods, however, Bradley repeatedly uses the phrase "the gods behind the gods we see."

Years later, I have arrived at exactly that belief: that our words about "God" are metaphorical, and that the Reality behind those words is what's important. (Read my Foundations essay "A View of God" for more on this idea.)

But even back in my Bible-thumpin' days, I must have been thinking about this nameless, formless God, and there's photographic proof.

Ascension Church is a small, magnificent jewel of architecture.  It was built in 1889, and while I was working there, in 1977, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  (I hung the plaque near the front door that says so.)  One of the building's nicest features is the little bell tower.

Another of Ascension's attractions is its fine collection of stained-glass windows.  A little-seen feature of the tower is four small windows (one is visible here, just to the right of the porch, and another can barely be made out around the corner to the right).  Three of the windows can be seen from the bottom of the stairs as one looks up the staircase that leads to the bell; the fourth can only be seen as the stairs are climbed.

Now, as you look at the first three below, you can see that they represent the Father (a hand reaching down); the Son (the Chi Rho [looks like X P] standing for Christ); and the Holy Spirit (the well-known symbol of the dove).

But what about the fourth window?  It's blank!

There's a perfectly reasonable answer.  As mentioned above, only the first three can be seen without climbing up the stairs.  Why spend money on a window that most people won't see?

And yet, if this were the only answer, I don't think I would have taken that photo so many years ago.  No, even then, I felt that this window was significant.

And now I know why: It represents that nirguna Brahman, the "God Behind the Gods We See," the unknowable Ground of Being.  In Buddhist terms, it's sunya (emptiness).

Or maybe it's just an undecorated window.

Contents (C) 2006 James Baquet


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