Faith in the Family

Faith in the Family

I was asked today at rather short notice if I would facilitate a workshop on Saturday. The theme of the day is ‘Images of God’. I had already said yes to the request when I began to panic – what am I going to do with the group, have I time to pull together a good workshop? However, as I have run around this afternoon, doing some food shopping, picking up kids from school, sitting now outside my son’s guitar lesson, ideas and memories have begun to find a shape and a workshop plan is emerging.

Where do our images of God come from? I say images because no one image is ever enough. The image we have of God, the language we use to talk about God can only ever approximate. No definition, no image, no theological concept ever captures the reality of God because God is always more. Sometimes I think we get stuck in how we picture God so it can be good to shake things up a bit!

I remember when I was very small, maybe three or four years of age, being at Mass with my mother in the old chapel outside Strabane. We would have walked up to Mass and no doubt I chattered away as usual. However, once inside the church my mother always put on a mantilla, a lace headscarf. To me it was a sign that she was praying, that she was untouchable, not to be disturbed. I remember not liking that mantilla.

It felt as if by wearing it my mother was removed from me. As a consequence I felt that God too was somehow forbidding and distant, that God demanded my mother’s exclusive attention.

But there was another, less daunting image too. A prayer my mother prayed with me at night came from a Christmas carol: “What can I give Him, poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give Him? Give Him my heart.” The love summed up in those words touched me deeply and I think were part of what has drawn me into a relationship of love with God.

I was a teenager when my brother Paul was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. I remember my initial reaction being a desire to scream and cry out against God for doing this. I wanted to blame God and batter Heaven with prayers until God would relent and cure my brother. My image of God grew and deepened over those long months.

I did not experience God as distant and forbidding but as one who walked the road of suffering with us, understanding our pain because of what happened to Jesus on the cross. And so my image of God came to be shaped by intimacy, solidarity, love and strength.

Our images of God are shaped by our life experience. Our children’s first glimpse of God’s love is their experience of how we love them. We gain new insight into who God is through our children’s utter and uncomplicated love for us. How we speak to our children about God shapes their images.

The more we talk about God’s love for them, God’s dream for them, God’s image at the heart of them the richer and fuller their images of God will be.

We all carry layered images of God within us, ones we are aware of and ones that lie beneath our consciousness. Some images draw us deeper into our relationship with God.

Other images can block or even undermine a maturing faith. It is worth unpacking them, exploring our images. Now that is an interesting conversation for around the dinner table!