In my last blog article, I shared how curiosity in the place of judgment has opened up new understandings for me. One very important revelation was about my image of God and of myself.
In spiritual direction, one of the first questions asked of a directee is “what is your image of God?” The directee will often learn much about themselves as they explore the answer to this question. Many mystics support the idea that one way, and perhaps the best way, to know God better is to know yourself better. If we seek the very core of our being (mind/body/spirit), we very often find God there.
I have learned from personal experience that these images of God and of myself are ever changing. Another concept shared by mystics is that once you find that you know God, or can name God, you must toss that image away and begin your search again. This comes from the idea that God is too big for our human understanding and therefore we shouldn’t hold on to our image of God too tightly.
Since my No Fear New Year commitment, I have been learning much about myself, fear and all its accompanying side effects. It has been edifying and validating. I have also been given the opportunity to notice how I see God and myself.
FEAR AND MY SELF IMAGE
Recently, while on retreat, I took time to pray, as I usually do, in the form of Centering Prayer. In this prayer, you sit comfortably in silence for a short period of time, usually with your eyes closed. During that time, many distractions arise but, prior to beginning to pray, you choose a prayer word that signifies your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within you. When the distractions come, you gently return to your prayer word.
I don’t ever anticipate anything in this prayer: no consolations or revelations. I simply sit in the presence of God the entire time. I find the fruits of this prayer in the rest of my life, in my ordinary interactions with others, myself, and God.
During this look inward, it is almost inevitable that I see myself in the process. I share with you a journal entry which documents a learning for me:
I just finished Centering Prayer and noticed how much I enjoyed that, ‘that was fun,’ I said to myself, ‘I wasn’t afraid at all’ (RECORD SCRATCH) Wait! What? What could I be afraid of? Looking inside myself comes to mind.
This prayer time, I kept having a long look at myself, and I was pleasantly surprised that this was nothing to be afraid of. As a matter of fact - it’s enjoyable. It’s quiet and peaceful there. I’m light and free inside myself. It’s pitch black but not dark. I see nothing and feel everything.
This was at the beginning of an annual 8 day retreat, so I was able to unpack that even more over the week. I was actually surprised to notice that I have been bringing fear into my prayer. I also think I was using my search for God (a little) to avoid having a good look at myself.
Perhaps my defenses were lowered while on retreat just enough for me to actually see myself. I learned that when we take a look at ourselves in such an intimate manner, we are then called to love what we see. The concept of loving myself has always made me uncomfortable: not because I am excessively selfless, but more because I just don’t know how to do that. But God’s call was clear and, now that fear was out of the way, I could hear it: “you can’t love me any better until you love yourself better.”
CHANGING IMAGE OF GOD
At the same time, I was struggling with how much my image of God was changing, despite my knowledge of the mystics’ teachings. I was most annoyed with a feeling of limbo between my old and new images. I woke one morning with these thoughts in my mind.
So God, you are changing for me. In a way, you become less personal. For many months, I have sensed your being in the form of energy. It is exhilarating but also somehow distant. I feel loved, yet you are not ‘a being’ in a way I can imagine, so how is this possible? You simply are ‘being’. How does one interact with this?
Oddly enough, as I was called to know myself better, the above discomfort lessened. When I close my eyes and look at myself with no agenda or judgment, it feels comfortable but also expansive. It is so vast that I find it hard to describe, but I’m surprisingly at ease in this mysterious place. I also notice that my experience is different each time, which I interpret to mean that I am different each time. My image of myself became fluid.
The more able I was to accept this changing image of myself, the less I struggled with the mystery of God’s changing image and presence. The transience of God’s image began to feel normal. I am learning to hold each image loosely so the next image may come.
One of the many blessings of an 8 day retreat is that it is silent. I speak with my spiritual director every day, but I spend the rest of the time in silence. This may seem daunting, and it can be at first, but I find I slip into the silence quickly.
Silence provides an opportunity to connect to the center of my being and be with God, who is there waiting for me. In this place of silence, communication with God happens in the form of ideas, images, and emotions. I experience God with all my senses through the beauty around me, the contemplation of scripture, and the solitude of silence. I pay attention to how I notice God in my body too. Sometimes God is revealed to me in a peaceful feeling, a warmth, or the sense of being held.
This retreat, I sensed God’s desire for me to continue to let go of fear, specifically my fear of that long, deep look inside myself, so that I can come closer to God. The invitation was so overwhelming that the fear simply slipped away, and I saw myself with new eyes and gentle compassion; almost as if God were saying “here is what I see when I look at you.” As I contemplated my image of God, he shared the image he was contemplating of me.
Can you see an intimacy there? I felt it and am changed because of it. Actually, I’m not really changed; I just feel more like me. I’m me with less fear and fewer insecurities and doubts. It is a great freedom that brings me to my foundation. How is that for learning how to love myself?
If I were to summarize my journey since my last article, I would say that God’s desire to know and love us intimately is palpable. God calls us all with an intense desire that we realize our inherent oneness.
I hope this brings you encouragement to have a look at your own journey with God. I remind you that if you are seeking and need someone to speak with, I have several resources listed on my website. And, naturally, I am happy to help as well.
If you feel curious or even annoyed at this prospect, have a closer look at that, it may be an invitation you can’t refuse.