“When you think of God, what image comes to mind?”
This was a question put to me by one of my assessors at ACPO (the Bishop’s Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination, that “Church Big Brother” that I spoke of in my last post).
I didn’t know how to answer her. Images for God? I suppose some people think of a big, bushy, white bearded fellow who sits on a throne in the clouds. Others might see an image of Jesus, perhaps on a cross. I’m not sure what I said in response to the question. I think I stumbled through some descriptive words that are helpful to me now and then.
The question, however, stuck with me. When I returned home, I looked up the assessor who had asked that question and decided to read one of her books. In it I discovered that the question, “When you think of God, what image comes to mind?” wasn’t too far off of a question she had posed to the women she had interviewed as a part of her research: “If you think about God, do you have any picture in your mind?” In the pages that followed I gained a better understanding of what my assessor was perhaps getting after with her question to me.
However rather than recount her findings here, I will continue off along the path my reflections took me. Rather then focus on specific images for God, I began to think more about why I didn’t have any actual images that jumped to mind when questioned. It isn’t that I am not a visual learner, I am to some extent as I picture things I have read on the page when trying to recall. It isn’t even that I don’t see the value of images as I appreciate meditating on an icon.
Instead, I turn to Madeleine L’Engle who, in one of her works of non-fiction, perhaps A Circle of Quiet, (I’ve read them all so many times that they begin to blend into one), talks of the difficulty of bringing to mind a picture of those for whom we have the most familiarity and the greatest amount of love. Try it. Start by trying to picture a friend, coworker, or neighbour. Someone who you see and interact with on a regular basis but don’t get into the great depths of relationship. Then try to bring to mind a image of someone you love deeply, perhaps a spouse, parent, or child. It is much more difficult! Perhaps the better we know someone, and know them through different and many senses, the more difficult it is to picture them in our minds.
Something to think about.
(Post Script: This isn’t to say that I think I have God all figured out or that I am a super person knows God so well that I am superior to all of those people who have visual pictures in their mind of who God is… Rather it is me thinking out loud about how I relate to this concept and how I have been understanding myself and my relation to God in light of the question posed to me a few weekends ago.)