Friday, October 31, 2014

What is God?

Below, ESR's Carole Spencer shares her reflections on leading a recent retreat on "Images of God":

Someone has said that “To think about God is to the human soul what breathing is to the human body.” 

Last weekend, Friday evening Oct. 24 and Saturday Oct 25, I led a workshop/retreat on ‘Images of God’ at Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana to explore what may be the central question of the human soul.  Retreatants experienced ten hours of full immersion in the deepest of theological and spiritual explorations—our language, concepts, images and experiences of God.
Eleven brave participants signed up, four men and seven women.  Most were of the baby boomer generation and beyond.  The oldest participant was in his 80s, the youngest in his 30s.  Most were either Quakers or Methodists, but their religious diversity was much broader than their traditional affiliations, ranging from skeptic to mystic.

We explored images of God through scripture, poetry, music, and visuals such as art and icons.  Participants were invited to reflect on, and reconnect with, their images of God through different stages of their life. 

A basic assumption of the workshop is that God is beyond all words and images, yet we need symbols and metaphors to be open to the mystery of the divine in which we live. A second assumption is that our language and our images for God will mirror our culture and our conditioning, and it is natural to construct images of God that are anthropomorphic, cultural and time-bound.  As we mature and develop spiritually, and as our world changes, our images of God change, expand and evolve.  The goal of the workshop was to open participants  to new ways to encounter, connect and respond to the divine mystery in their life.

‘JesusWept’ by Daniel Bonnell, one of the several artist images we reflected on.

One participant shared a powerful experience she had as a young child of eight years old upon seeing the aurora borealis.  Later, several days after the workshop she gave me an envelope with several poems she had composed that described her experience of God.  She has given me permission to share the poem called ‘Awakening,’ a marvelous image of God as both personal and cosmic love.


On a cold midwinter night
I, a child, am snug in bed asleep, when –
   someone is calling my name
   someone is gently shaking me –
“Loie, come see, come see
              something wonderful.”

I’m wide awake now and curious.
Wrapped in my blanket, shivering in excitement,
  I follow my parents out on the hill
  between house and barn.
The night air is charged with a bright
              mysterious light.

Over our heads the night sky
shimmers and moves with colorful lights
    - a giant tongues of flame
in pale red, green and blue.
We three stand close, faces uplifted in
             awestruck wonder.

I take for granted this is God’s work.
Although I couldn’t say just who God is.
     Family love enfolds me
     as my spirit reaches into the sky –
I am experiencing the immensity of
            Creative Love.

That night stands as a bright landmark
on my journey of awakening faith.
    I know that, small as I am,
    I am a part of this Grand Creation –
As close as family Love –
As wide and mysterious as
           The Universe.

~ Lois Jordan

Carole SpencerCarole Spencer serves as Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Earlham School of Religion. She is a recorded minister in Northwest Yearly Meeting.

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