August 1994. I am a volunteer counsellor at Camp Maskepetoon. Two cabin groups gather on the front lawn by the main lodge for Devotions. The leader passes out paper and invites us to grab some markers or crayons from the bin in the center of the circle. We are asked to write down what the word God means to us. Some of us write a list of words or phrases. Some of us draw a picture. Some do both. Later, we talk about what we had put down and why. We talked about who God was to us, what God meant to us.
In the years since that day on the lawn I have returned to that program idea a number of times. As people of faith we have to share with each other what images we have of God. We have to listen to each other’s understanding of who God is. We do that sharing in the midst of a great mystery. There is no one right answer to the question “who or what is God?”. There are a whole bunch of right answers. There are a whole bunch of images and metaphors and all of them are partially right.
Can we have the courage to allow for images of God other than our own? Can we have hearts open enough to allow our image of God to be enhanced and broadened when we hear how our neighbour sees God? As I read Scripture, which has an incredibly wide variety of ways to describe the Divine, I think we have no choice. In fact I think that is what God hopes for.
On a shelf in my living room is a children’s book written by Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso called In God’s Name. The premise of the book is that all the people are trying to determine what the one, right, perfect name for God is. After all, everything else has a name, surely God must have a name. So each person suggests a name for God. Names like Mother, Father, Bringer of Peace, My Rock, and many others are suggested. Each person argues that their name is the one, the best, the most perfect name and “nobody listened. Least of all God”. Then one day they all gather around a calm smooth lake. They see each other reflected in the water and all together they each say their name for God. When that happens, the book says, “everyone listened. Most of all, God.” To describe God more fully we must use a wide variety of pictures and metaphors.
So how would you answer? If you had been sitting on that lawn with us what words or pictures would have been on your paper? If you were one of the people in that book what name would you argue was the best name for God? I am sure that day 28 years ago there were people who named the old man with a long white beard. As a child of the Star Wars generation I have always found the idea of the Force to be one of my metaphors for the Divine. One member of St. Paul’s, when asked this question, used the image of a hen gathering her chicks under her wings (an image drawn from Scripture). For Christians God is revealed uniquely in Jesus of Nazareth, the Risen Christ. Many faiths see God revealed in their sacred writings. God is revealed in all of Creation. Who is God for you?
In the first story of Creation in Genesis we are told that we, humanity, are created in God’s image. I think that calls us to to see God’s image walking down the street in every person we meet. That means that God is Caucasian, African, Asian, and Indigenous American. It means God is male and female, cis-gendered, trans, and non-binary, straight and gay and bisexual. It means God is the centenarian and the newborn baby. It means God is seen in the addict, or the person resorting to theft to get money for food. It may be challenging to see God in all these ways. But we have no choice. If we truly believe that humanity is created in God’s image then all humanity needs to be part of our image of God. Otherwise we risk reversing the words of Genesis and create God in our image.
In one of the United Church’s statements of faith God is described as Holy Mystery. God is within and beyond all our words and pictures and metaphors. We can not claim that our understanding is the one right understanding. We have to share the wide variety so that we can try to capture the Mystery. What picture of God feeds your soul?