One of my favorite images of God is one that I pray each morning with the Benedictus, “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” How do we explain or deal with the mysterious and unexplainable? I believe we do it with images that portray the character of the thing we are trying to understand or relate to.
I want to share with you a variety of images of God that have helped me at different times in my life, especially during times of decision making. They have been simple moments, like the little chipmunk appearing on the head of my praying monk statue on the patio as I was reflecting on seeing God in the world around me. He sat there for the longest time, enjoying the sun while I enjoyed his presence. God was sitting with me in that moment. We just sat together, just present to each other.
It can be an inner knowing of a voice that the Spirit gives when listening with the ear of my heart. After I retired this summer I was excited about all the projects I could get done and what might be in store for me. I saw an Instagram post by Becky regarding the Director of Ministry Operations. I thought, “too bad a job like that didn’t show up when I was looking”. Later in the week I saw the post again, the voice was louder, “put your name in for this job”, the knowing more sure. I sat down immediately, updated my corporate resume and sent an honest letter explaining why the team should consider someone that just retired for the position. During the process of waiting and discerning whether I wanted the job, (did I really want to go back to work?) I used an image, during meditation, from Becky’s The Inner Chapel book regarding her children at the beach with various levels of confidence and trust about swimming in the water. I thought of myself, standing deep in the water, waves up around my shoulders and neck, feet safely planted on the sand below. I felt Jesus in front of me, deeper in the water, waving a finger at me, saying “It’s time”, asking me to come deeper, and trust moving out into the deep water without the security of the sand below. I knew in that moment that if offered the position to join Becky’s team, that I should say “yes” with confidence.
Images and conversations of and with God also come in a physical building, my parish church. I have spent most of my 65 years worshiping there. The building has surrounded and rejoiced with me during times of joy and celebration, it has embraced and comforted me during times of sorrow. The building itself acts as an image of God protecting me from the world outside and providing a quiet place for conversation.
We have the most interesting crucifix in our church, the only one I have ever seen with Jesus still alive on the cross, with his loving arms outstretched, staring down upon us. Many years ago, during a time of decision making regarding the business I owned, I went to the church to pray. I was suffering over the decision to keep the business open or wondering whether it was time to close. After a few minutes of quieting myself down, looking up at that crucifix, I pleaded for an answer. I “heard” my answer. It was, “Look at me here. Yes, it was hard, but it was just a few hours of suffering on a Good Friday, after this comes Easter. It all changes. Don’t worry.” I knew everything would turn out for the best, and in time, it did.
We use images in the Church weekly when we hear God tell us to “stand at the door and knock” or when Jesus tells us he is the Good Shepherd. We see Wisdom as Sophia, a beautiful woman. We pray to experience the fullness of the wedding banquet with Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as the bride. Our biblical heritage and teaching is rich with images. With confidence we can ask for our own images, images that we personally relate to. If you are having a difficult time centering in prayer, consider using an image from your life experience as a parent or friend. Imagine yourself as a child reaching out in love to a parent for comfort or reassurance. Ask for the grace to experience God in images in the world around you.
- The Benedictus, Canticle of Zechariah, is part of the Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer. You can read it here.
- Deena is a Benedictine Oblate of St Mary Monastery in Rock Island, IL. To learn more about oblate life, you may want to read:
Photo by Francesco Alberti on unsplash.com