Spiritual Reading 10

10. A Changing Image

Focus on the gentle Heart of Jesus was a long-needed liberation from a harsh father image of God to the embrace of a tender companion God. The image of God as the strict father originates in the psychological world. It is not a revealed image of God but one based on our own experience of our parents. The domineering father demands obedience and submission as the price of taking care of us. That fearsome image was transferred to God in the many centuries in which fathers looked like that.

That nexus of obedience and caretaking may have evoked a subtle belief in us: Recall the question: “Why does God permit suffering?” We grew up believing that as long as we were obedient to our father, he would take care of us. This illusion is what makes us wonder why the innocent suffer since they were obedient and loyal. In reality, God only promises to be with us in suffering and to help us go on loving after we suffer. God does not cancel the givens of life only helps us live through them. They then become gifts and graces. Providence is a guarantee that in the face of suffering, cruelty, death, and injustice we can go on loving. The capacity for love is God in us since God is love. This is what we mean by saying that it all works out for the best: not that external situations necessarily rectify themselves but that our powers of love remain intact. Faith is a grace-heightened trust in divine providence no matter what the appearances predict or how they afflict.

In recent times the image of God has changed for many people. A remote male God in the sky or a primitive and vindictive father God is no longer what fathers are like, and so that is no longer what God is like for many of us. Fathers show affection more easily nowadays and both parents show nurturance. This may explain why it is easier to think of God now as male and female. The male God makes rules so it becomes easy to know how to please him. The feminine goddess energy is enveloped in mystery so it is not so simple. Is this one of the reasons we have for so long been less oriented toward the feminine in religion?

Mothers are often more kindly and forgiving than fathers. That imago may explain why we turn more confidently to Mary than to God the Father when we are in trouble. In any case, mature religious consciousness does not limit its view of God to the father or to the masculine. It includes the mother energy. This is also found in devotion to the Sacred Heart since it is the heart of the universe, of mother earth. The church has preserved the motherly love in Mary but that love is also in God beyond gender, the Holy Trinity.

The Christian belief in the Trinity makes three affirmations about the nature of God: There is a Father energy that is creative, a transcendent reality from which all being emerges, a self-giving that is unfailing. Unlike the fathers who demand submission, this Father asks only alignment to his loving will, which constitutes our happiness and our peace. This Father is nurturing and protective but does not grant exemption from life’s givens, only accompaniment through them: “For thou art with me.”

God as Son means that God becomes involved in our human story in a powerfully redemptive way. Indeed, the reality of God is revealed in Jesus in a way that is definitive and yet ever-emerging, as St. Augustine says: “ever ancient, ever new.” The command of Christ that we love one another as he loved us means that we are called to love impartially and to become fully committed to relieving suffering. We show devotion by being responsive to the human condition of all our neighbors, now meaning not only next door but next hemisphere.

A Holy Spirit reveals God not out there but always present and active here and now showing us the ways to fulfill our destiny of joining the forces of evolution toward ever-increasing love. The self-giving of the Father who showed how much he gives through the Son, gives now through the Holy Spirit by grace. Jan Van Ruysbroeck says: “All things are loved anew by the Father and the Son in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and this is the active meeting of the Father and the Son in which we are lovingly embraced by the Holy Spirit in eternal love.” The Holy Spirit is a feminine energy, like that of Mary, granting nurturance, brooding over us in our darkness, awakening us to our daily works of light. The creation of each of us was God’s repeating of his very first Good News: “Let there be light.”

I swam in the ocean of divinity until I went beyond the Trinity.

– Meister Eckhart