All we have to talk about God are metaphors (last post). But God can’t be contained in any construct we can hold in our brains. This dichotomy invites us to revisit one of our most familiar metaphors for God; a “person.”
Through the centuries, we Christians have had a somewhat divided mind on this point. On the one hand, at the Council in Nicea (325AD) we decided that God was “one substance, three persons.” Once we used that word, “person,” we couldn’t help but insert into our tradition a deep, visceral sense that God is a person like you and me. We hear the Bible stories in which God acts like a person (has feelings, thinks thoughts, does deeds), and we walk away with a reduced version of God in our heads. We contain the uncontainable. We shoehorn God into a “like-me” box.
But on the other hand, our scriptures and mystics keep telling us not to fall into this trap.
One of our saints, Julian of Norwich, stands in this tradition; insisting we not reduce our irreducible God into any image; even one as familiar to us as “Father,” or “King,” or “Bridegroom.” One of the main themes of her life was to tinker with our images of God.
As our Western, Roman sensibilities kept pushing on us, a standardized God that everybody in the Empire could conform to, she insisted we not. Hers was an appreciation for Mystery and the Unknowable Unknown.
As our mystics have always done, she tried out all kinds of images for God, jumping easily from one to another, acknowledging that God is beyond any one. She spoke of God as “energy;” alluded to the Divine as “the soil from which life emerges.” She imagined God, not as an external being “out there,” but as Presence in everything. She spoke of “smelling God,” and “swallowing God in the waters and juices of the earth.”
Julian insisted God is not an entity separate from humanity. For her, God is the very energizing force that animates humanity. See God, she encouraged us, as the heart of creation, the presence of Love at the center of all that is. The deeper we move into the human soul, the closer we become to the Divine. The nearer we are to our true selves, the more we sing the song of Divine love.
Hers is a very different way of framing God than “one substance, three persons.”
And as we mentioned in the last post, different metaphors for God lead us on very different spiritual journeys. As our current Western Christian experience bespeaks the need for a better framing narrative, a good starting point would be trading our image of God in for a new one.
You’re use of the term “Trade God in for a new one” is a real attention getter, maybe a little scary, I think, on purpose. This works better in a speech, when the audience in the next few moments after the shock effect will hear your rational explanation, which in this case amounts to obtaining a new awareness of the same divinity we didn’t quite understand before. We are getting a new “image” of God, not switching to “the other god”. In a book, you would have to be more careful because a shocked reader might pause, jump to conclusions, and not read further to get the point. You would have to let the reader know the shock is for a purpose and to bear with you and read on.
I’m a little confused. I thought you said that we often form our image of God based on our “father” image – which is different for different people. What do you mean exactly by WE need to form a new image of God… Aren’t there already many images of God among many Christians. Wouldn’t a new image also comprise, many new images? Or are you referring to our common tendency to try to “contain” God, and that we need to begin to let go of that hopeless effort and let God be amorphous, less a precise/fixed image and more an overarching concept? (Maybe amorphous isn’t exactly the word I’m looking for here, but it’s as close as I can come right now.
I guess the gist of it all is that if you are trying to introduce the idea that God cannot be contained, I don’t like the word image used in that context, even “new image” as that conjures up a picture of God which we see (as containable). Rather, I would use a different word such as perception, or idea of God. What I hear you explaining is that we are progressing toward an experience of God which cannot be contained, but which can be partially understood by us because God lives within us and God’s attributes/characteristics therefore resonate with us to the extent that we are capable of understanding.
I think I need to read Julien of Norwich! She seems, here. to share my feelings about God.
On the trinity.. is it so hard to see (imagine), feel a God that can be all of those things.. and more, and at different times? Without taking away anything from our God.