Personal Images of “God”

First off, some fun news! After a few years of attending services when I could but never really having the time to go regularly or the money to make a commitment, I finally joined a church! Hurrah! Feels good. I think I mentioned a bunch of posts ago (the one about patronage and offerings) that I hadn’t recognized the transition to adulthood and the fact that I can actually be a member on my own now. Silly, but…you know. Sometimes life gets busy and really obvious things happen without you noticing. I think this was an important transition/rite of passage. And I like this church. Looking forward to getting more involved with it.

One of the things I’m doing there (that actually started before I joined) is a “build your own theology” course/discussion group. We’ve been having a lot of good conversations and it’s given me a lot of ideas. That’s what inspired the spirituality survey I posted recently, In fact. (The follow-up post on that is going to be awhile. I have come to some conclusions about what spirituality means and it’s giving me a lot of ideas, but I’m going to wait and do all the autism topics I have lined up first. Bonus, gives me a chance to further develop my ideas on spirituality before sharing them.)

This week’s assignment involved crayons. Wow I love crayons. The assignment was to draw our conceptions of God at four points in our lives – childhood, youth, pre-UU adulthood, and now. Since the discussion group is Facebook-based, handing out crayons and paper for everyone to draw during a meeting wasn’t really an option, so for the most part we’re just discussing. But I’m lucky enough to have this blog, so I did the artsy bits anyway and figured I’ll put them here with some explanation.

1. Childhood
childhood
Typical “old man in the sky,” basically. Also basically Jesus with grey hair (or skinnier Santa), wearing the kinds of clothes featured on our feltboard figures and coloring pages in Sunday school. Because obviously those are Bible-clothes because they’re special for religious reasons or something, not because history. 😀

2. Youth
youth
*sigh* A quote from the movie Dogma probably best describes this image. Apologies to my more traditional/orthodox friends. “Organized religion destroys who we are by inhibiting our actions, by inhibiting our decisions, out of fear of some intangible parent figure, who shakes a finger at us from thousands of years ago and says ‘Do it, do it and I’ll [redacted f-word] spank you!'” Not all organized religion, obviously. But there was definitely a huge and oppressive element of fear and shame in the religion of my teen years. Everything was rules and accusations and judgment of everyone not-us (which included me in my mind). Not good times.

3. Pre-UU Adulthood
julian - preuu
Hey, that doesn’t look like the rest of these! 😀 I actually already had this one from an assignment in my Julian of Norwich class. The professor had us listen to music and do some artwork. It was a profound experience for me, and I wound up getting so involved in it I couldn’t stop when the music went off and the professor was telling us to describe our work to our groups. I think she actually berated me for that a little. Oh well. Don’t give such good assignments if you don’t want your students to get absorbed in them!

I was definitely moving towards a more feminine image of God at this point, and much more focused on connection and healing rather than judgment. The wings here represent the embrace of God and how it heals the heart, represented by the flame/sun (flames are hard to draw, sun is shorthand) in the center. The quote looks pretty blurry, so I’ll repeat it here: “For as the body is clad in cloth and the flesh in skin, and the bones in the flesh, and the heart in the trunk, so are we, soul and body, clad and enclosed in the goodness of God.” It’s from Showings by Julian of Norwich, in which she shares her visions and insights from a time of illness. It’s a fascinating read, I highly recommend it regardless of your religious affiliation (or lack thereof).

4. Now
now
Stars! The big bang! “We are all made of stardust.” Stars are important. This represents a movement towards the idea of “God” as a connecting force, the beginning of the universe, the sum total of all existence, and the spark of creation within all of us. There’s a new book I can’t wait to read about the idea of hive minds and emergent phenomena, article where the author discusses it here. Seems to fit a lot of my ideas. So far I would only disagree with the idea (from what I understand) that it’s a phenomena that happened post-humanity. I don’t think humanity has a unique claim to the divine, and I would characterize it rather as the guiding force that makes creation keep moving and growing. But obviously humans interacting with it and describing it wind up making it more anthropomorphic. Our idea of the divine as a person more or less like us but more powerful I would definitely say is reflection of humanity and something we created.

I think it’s interesting that our images of God are so personal and vary so much from one to another, or even at different times in our lives. One former classmate of mine was very glued to the idea of God-as-Father and didn’t want to consider any other ideas. They were fine for other people, but for her that was absolutely who God was. Some find meaning in God-as-Mother, or friend, or an impersonal force. For some people the word “god” isn’t a useful term at all (but I’m not sure that necessarily means they have no use for the idea behind the name). Lots of people talk to God like a friend.

What are some ways you envision and/or relate to God? Any that stand out from earlier stages in your life? Has your understanding also evolved a great deal?

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2 thoughts on “Personal Images of “God”

  1. I am so glad you included your illustrations here. Love them!

    My pastor has told of seminary students being given this assignment – well, more like: how do you picture God, and one guy drew a big eyeball. He explained that he feels God is always looking at him to see if he measures up, to see if he makes mistakes. Like God is ready to ZAP him if he messes up. Likely, others can relate as it seems to go with your picture #2. I can see how people would get this impression especially when they read and dwell on certain biblical passages where it does seem as if God just zaps people. Maybe we focus more on the negative than on all the/any good just as media tends to focus on the bad in society because good news just doesn’t seem to attract viewers.

    I have struggled at times with reconciling God in the OT with Jesus in the NT, but more and more I am trying to focus on the qualities of mercy, grace, unconditional love, healing, forgiveness, advocate instead of people-zapper.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. I will catch up on the others later. I know I am reading a bit out of order.

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    1. I think God is used by some people as a way of enforcing control. My concept of God as a giant wagging finger was definitely one I developed as a result of having everyone who talked to me about God doing so as a way to tell me to stop doing certain things, hanging around certain people, etc. Like Santa, he sees you all the time. Unlike Santa, if he doesn’t like what you’re doing he’ll torture you forever for it. And more importantly, he’ll be disappointed. Isn’t that just the worst? 😀

      I did frequently hear phrases like “God is love,” but those are sort of meaningless when that love is not only extremely conditional but expressed exclusively in the form of punishment and anger. A god who responds to imperfection through acceptance and healing doesn’t inspire people to seek out constant advice and acceptance from power-hungry leaders. It’s hard to shame people for not coming to church and making offerings if you really preach a god who is constantly reaching out for connection and healing rather than one that has to be approached through layers of shame and petition.

      That’s my perspective. I recently saw an article about the top 10 professions that have the highest and lowest concentration of sociopaths. Clergy was #8 on the highest list, and I can’t say I’m at all surprised. That’s not to say there aren’t good ministers, I know many people who are interested in the work because they honestly believe they can serve well. But it’s a profession that comes with a lot of power and authority, and I can see how that would draw people who think they deserve those things. The idea that God wants them there can be just another way of boosting their own ego and convincing themselves that the people need them to take control and show them the right way to live. And since so much of the language and culture is the same from church to church, it can take a long time to recognize this attitude in a pastor, and it’s easy to mistake their proclamations as essential part of the religion.

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