Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Imago Dei

God said to Moses, "I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I'll call out the name, God, right before you. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."

God continued, "But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live."  Exodus 33:19-20.
 A few weeks ago, Sarah H brought the message for programmed worship at Freedom Friends Church.  She talked about the images we have of God, and shared some of the images that have been meaningful for her.  One of the things she said was that the images we have of God reflect ourselves more than they reflect God.

For me, that is literally true—two of the clearest images I have had of God are actually images of myself.

The first occurred at Northwest Yearly Meeting annual session in 2009.  As I wrote at the time, I was finding it difficult to be present in the meeting as a woman for a variety of reasons.  One was that the language Friends were using for God was almost exclusively and quite explicitly male.  Hearing God referred to as "he" over and over made me feel alienated, and did not reflect my experience of God.

I brought this sense of alienation to unprogrammed worship one evening.  As I settled into worship, a clear image came to me; it was the image of myself playing the role of the Holy Spirit in a skit I performed with Friends at North Pacific Yearly Meeting.

Although the skit itself was silly, in that moment, the image was so comforting.  It reminded me that despite others' use of male language, God could also look like me.

The second image of God also came to me in worship.  I was at the first School of the Spirit residency, at morning worship.  In that worship, there was a moment when I was utterly alone before God.  I could not actually see God—what I could see was a silhouette of myself, standing before an incredibly bright light.

I said, “God, I’m scared.  It’s too much.  I am afraid you will destroy me.”  Then God said, “I love you and I made you.  I would never destroy you!”
"When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord."  Exodus 34:29.
Sometimes when I give vocal ministry, I glow.  Friends have told me that I burn brightly and even that I am radiant.  That is hard for me to hear and makes me uncomfortable, but I know it is true because I have seen it in others.

As Friends, we believe that vocal ministry is speaking on behalf of God.  Sometimes when I speak, I can feel the power of God within me; other times, I feel broken and inadequate, but I speak anyway, because that is what I believe God is asking me to do.

Today at midweek prayer, we read the passage in Matthew 25 about God appearing in those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison.  We talked, as we often do, about the challenges of seeing God in others.  

As difficult it can be to see God in others, I believe it is also a gift.  God is overwhelming, but other people are not.  Seeing God in another person is a much gentler way of encountering God than seeing God face to face.

That also means that others can see God through me.  I think that may be more challenging—to acknowledge that, even in my brokenness, others can see the Holy Spirit in me.   Having my own images of God that are also images of myself helps me to believe that I can be an image of God for others.

How do we allow others to see God in us?  

How can we live into being images of God for each other?

1 comment:

  1. "Shekinah" == "presence of God" is likewise considered female...

    I don't think anyone quite gets "that of God in other people" until they've found what "that of God in me" means.

    And yes, if you're seeing "yourself" as 'your limited human identity' & imagining that as if it could be a separate thing, as if it could exist without God... there's a discordant note. I'm increasingly finding that tension ease: whether "I've done" something good by God's grace, or something 'human in the bad sense,' I'm learning to see God at work in it. I'd rather it was all the sort of behavior I can thank God for letting me join in... but those inadvertent glitches get worked into the choreography too!


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