“The Tao which can be told is not the eternal Tao,” states the opening line of the Tao te Ching. Try replacing Tao (or Way) with God or Jesus.
No matter who we are, the image of the Way, of God, even of Jesus, that we hold is not the true or eternal one. Our image will never offer the whole picture or truth. A book that is an enjoyable reminder of this is Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God.
So even though God is beyond all images, why do I still often ask people in Spiritual Direction, “When you pray or think about God, how do you image God?”
You can learn a lot from the image of God you hold. Images are powerful.
As a Spiritual Director, they can let me know why a person may have such a hard time being in Silence, praying, or trusting the Sacred Presence. They can also help identify particular spiritual wounds. Some images we hold inspire fear and shame rather than love and trust.
An example from my work:
Most often people describe a masculine image of God (usually a Zeus-like one standing judgmentally outside of them). This is not surprising as religions are chiefly shaped in and by patriarchal culture and language.
Yet one may not (or may not feel the freedom to) stop to think how a strictly masculine image of God can be wounding. Women, especially, have suffered (the extent is a topic for another time). But all of Creation (as well as Creator) suffers when parts of them (and in this case, the feminine) is ignored, suppressed, or even despised.
For some, the suffering leads to feelings of resistance to all things around God, Jesus, Church, and Scripture. Not knowing the soul is crying out for a more holistic, truer image of Divinity, many times the person feels guilty or rejects all things religion-related (but somehow some still find their way to sitting with a Spiritual Director!).
As we listen together in the Silence, the still, small Voice begins to whisper of the Divine Feminine and often images from Scripture itself arise—Lady Wisdom (also known as “Chokmah” in Hebrew or “Sophia” in Greek), Mother Hen gathering her chicks, Mother God holding or nursing her beloved child, Mother Mary who knows suffering...
Notice the “Mother” theme? It is both telling as to what the person’s soul is crying out for as well as a needed corrective for an overabundance of Father imagery.
Feel uncomfortable with that thought? You are not alone, fear can often accompany the idea of turning toward these images (it did for me!). After all, a patriarchal culture only validates patriarchal images! Isn’t it amazing these feminine images are to be found at all in the Hebrew and Christian Bible? And by the way, Saint Paul declares Jesus to be the embodiment of Sophia (see I Corinthians 2:7 as one example).
When those in Spiritual Direction allow themselves to embrace (or be embraced by) the Divine Feminine, guess what? They can pray again.
And they begin to trust in the God who is with them, and in the case of women, a God who resembles and better understands them. They discover a true Soul Friend.
An example from home:
My teen daughter is a contemplative at heart. Silence has been her way of prayer since she was tiny. And for just as long, she has expressed a disdain for overly masculine images of God. We have talked about Mother God since preschool when we tweaked her school's "God our Father" singing prayer to also include "God our Mother." But not seeing or hearing the same language in communal worship has left her with little desire for institutional religion. I cannot blame her.
While it has not been a cause for worry, I have wondered if Silence is more of an escape from religion or a hiding place from the world rather than a surrendering to the Sacred. Regardless, I have trusted God would meet her in it, even if I had no idea of the particulars. But the other day she surprised me by saying she talks to Lady Wisdom and asks for Her help all the time!
I guess she figured one mother is enough for now! She has found relating to God as Lady Wisdom to naturally be more soul friendly. And finding a Friend of her Soul, she cannot help but pray.
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.