The Importance of Image
I try to follow various people I respect to see what kinds of things they are doing with regards to spirituality. One of the people I respect is Richard Rohr. While I don’t agree with everything he writes, I find his Franciscan spirit resonates with my Quaker spirit. He and I are about the same age, so it makes it easy to understand some of his concerns and issues. Neither one of us deals with teenage problems any more!
He has the ability to look at a common issue and see it in a way I might not ever look at it. Perhaps some of that is due to our different backgrounds and experience. I recall Rohr talks some about growing up in Kansas. That might not be too different than growing up in rural Indiana. But he also talks about his caring German, Roman Catholic family. My family certainly was caring enough. I have no complaints on that score. But growing up a Quaker in pre-Vatican II world surely is quite different. My family was fairly regular in church attendance on Sunday morning, but that was about it when it came to religious evidence in our lives. In retrospect I would say that we were good, but I am not sure we were Christian in the way I might define it today. But I am sure my parents would have said they were Christian. And that brings me to the words from Rohr with which I connect.
In one of his meditation pieces Rohr says, “Your image of God creates---or defeats you.” That is a pretty powerful line. Any time someone talks about defeating me, that person gets my attention! I don’t mind the creating part---that actually is quite good. That sounds positive and I am all for positive! But defeating is less attractive. In fact, I have gone to some lengths at times to avoid defeat.
For Rohr to tie my creating and defeating to my image of God is a bold step, but I might not be sure how that works. So the next line Rohr writes helps in my understanding. He adds that, “There is an absolute connection between how you see God and how you see yourself and the whole universe.” Once again, I find this very intriguing. Not only does Rohr say there is a connection between how I see God and how I see myself. Rohr says this is an absolute connection. I understand that to me the connection between these two is fail proof---guaranteed, he might confirm.
At first blush I realize I probably never thought about whether there is a connection between how I see God and how I see myself. I am sure many folks would be quick to doubt or, even, deny this contention of Rohr. But that likely would be nothing more than a defensive move. I suspect most of us think we have a pretty accurate view of ourselves. We feel like we know ourselves pretty well. And I also suspect that we assume that our view of ourselves resonates very closely with how others see us, too. So we have an honest and accurate view of ourselves. Finally most of us probably do not think this self-view has much or anything to do with how we see God.
“Wrong,” says Rohr! Let’s add one final sentence to see how Rohr wants to make his point. He says that, “The word ‘God’ first of all is a stand-in for everything---reality, truth, and the very shape of your universe.” I can imagine some people saying, “that’s not my view of God!” I am not quick to dismiss Rohr. I think that he is on to something.
I do think how we view reality is linked to our view of God. For example, if I think the world is orderly, friendly, etc., then I certainly connect this with God. The idea of truth is even easier for me. Most believers would latch on to that New Testament idea that God is truth---indeed, truth with a capital “T.” As such, God is the shape of my universe.
And this is where Rohr is sneaky and a real challenge. If there is an absolute connection between how I view God and how I view myself, then my whole being is at stake---I am either created or defeated. However, I wonder if Rohr might not have it reversed. I wonder if the real sequence is not this way: the way I see myself is absolutely connected to the way I see God? I think this is probably true, although it may be difficult to see or admit.
If I am honest, I think it is true for me. And I am also sure I would not have seen this in my earlier life. I would have assumed God is quite different than I am. But the longer I have lived and experienced life, the more I think I do see the absolute connection between my self-view and how I see God. And now my real task is to make sure that I see both myself and God in such a light to make this whole process creative.
I want to view my God as a caring, loving Spirit, which is at work in the world to bring justice and inaugurate a realm of peace and joy. And I want just as much to view myself in the same way---to be involved in a ministry of care and love. I want to be involved in the creative process of bringing justice and being a harbinger of peace and joy.