Wednesday, 29 October 2014

In the Telepresence of God

In the ancient world, temples functioned as gateways to the heavens. There’s a very real sense in which entering a temple was entering the heavens. When Israel’s high priest entered the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement, he didn’t merely walk into a secret chamber; he was passing from earth to heaven. But is there any present-day analogy that could elucidate this idea? Robin Parry suggests that

in some ways [this is] like a 3D video conference call. If we were able to have such a call with someone on the other side of the world there is a sense in which we are clearly in a different place from that person—we are thousands of miles apart. Yet there is another sense in which we are in the very presence of that person—we see and hear them in real time. Are we in the same place or not? No, but yes. In virtual reality we are. The video image of the person we speak with is not the person and yet it mediates the person’s presence to us. That gives us at least some inkling as to how ancient thought [sic] that temples functioned. They were considered “thin places” in which the distance dividing heaven and earth was collapsed, allowing communion between the spheres.

Robin A. Parry, The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible, with illustrations by Hannah Parry (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014), p. 144, italics original

The imagery of a conference call is a useful one, and I’ve often thought that this is how we could understand the Holy Spirit’s mediation of the risen Jesus to the world. At the risk of depersonalising the Spirit, we could picture the Spirit as the technology and power necessary to make the risen Jesus present to every believer at all times; an endless conference call. Jesus is physically located in one place (the Father’s side), but he is present everywhere because of the divine telepresence. Like all analogies, this one could be pressed to ridiculous extremes; should we, for example, regard receiving the sacraments as an ongoing subscription to Born-of-a-Virgin Media? But as a way to conceive both temple symbolism and Christ’s relationship with believers, it seems to have some mileage.

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