On How My Mind Was Blown

What is your image of God?

Quickly; don’t overthink it. Pick three or four words that most closely describe how you view God.

If you’re Christian, back up and do it again – it’s likely that you gave a good, Jesus-y answer. Tell the truth; be brutally honest with yourself.

Hold that thought.


I’m seriously dug into the certification program for spiritual direction at RGU. Almost halfway finished, and making good progress. I’m learning good things about how to serve others through spiritual direction; I get excellent feedback, accountability, and I do believe I am beginning to get this gist of this. One of the most surprising aspects of this program has turned out to be the immense personal growth I’m experiencing. The program is shaped to reflect the conviction that you can’t give what you don’t have, so there is a strong emphasis on spiritual health, reflected in the assignment that will carry through the spring, summer, and upcoming fall semesters. We’re doing the Ignatian Exercises, using the book Journey With Jesus by Larry Warner. (I wrote more about that process here.)

On the surface, it might appear to be no more than a daily time of Bible reading or devotions. Add time for the examen, and you’re essentially looking at a framework for spiritual growth that incorporates a fairly standard investment of time and thought.

That’s what one might think.

The truth is, however, that this journey has radically transformed my life. Not because its preachy or punchy or didactic in emphasizing what right things I need to believe in order to serve people seeking spiritual growth; because it’s asking questions and putting truth in front of me that gently and honestly invites me to be brutally honest about my core beliefs – about God. About myself. About my purpose and motivations.

The beginning of the exercises are actually just the preparation part; for several weeks, I’ve worked through principles and foundational beliefs like love, creation, reverence, and service. As the preparatory phase came to a close, caution flags went up.

Before {moving forward}, it is extremely important that you determine if you are in a spiritually healthy place in terms of your sense of God and self. You also need to be in a place where you have an internalized sense of faith and hope…if you do not feel ready to proceed, feel free to go back and revisit the previous exercises.

The book offers a few reflection questions and encourages taking a few days to work through them before going on.

So I did.

And that leads us back to that question at the top of the page.

Take time to think about God. What images of God come to mind? …Explore each of these images. Do they seem to have a predominantly positive or negative sense to them? Why?

Being the super spiritual person, pastor, and leader that I am, this was fairly easy for me.

(NOTE: THAT WAS SARCASM.)

I didn’t overthink it; I jotted down the first three things that came to mind.

Creative Creator

Joy

Observer

All make sense to me, in my current understanding of God. I thought a bit about each one. When I shared these thoughts with my accountability group, I found myself surprised by this image of Observer. I said, I see God just standing there, watching. Watching me. Arms folded over his chest, a look of slight disdain on his face, clearly communicating that it was just a matter of time before I screwed up again. He was observing me, knowing that I’d mess something up, and that he’d need to rescue me…gain. Kind of like the look I got from my dad, often, throughout most of my adolescence. Basically, “What dumb thing is she going to do next?”

This caught me off guard, y’all. It doesn’t sound very holy or spiritually mature. Not one bit.

But it’s the truth; that’s what came to mind first, and one thing I’m leaning about this whole process is that being brutally honest with yourself is a non-negotiable. Gotta do it. And apparently, that’s the truth about what I think God is like.


In the accountability group for these exercises, we share personal stuff for a few minutes, and then we just “hold it in silence.” You sit, silent and prayerful, and listen. (SIDE NOTE: I’M DISCOVERING THAT IT’S HARD TO HEAR GOD IF YOU NEVER SHUT UP, OR STOP THINKING. SILENCE AND MEDITATION ARE ESSENTIAL, TO PUT IT MILDLY.) In that silence, things happen. Sometime another thought comes to mind. Sometimes you realize you need to go to the bathroom.

Other times, though, it’s something meaningful, and you pay attention. I’m learning that this Divine Presence I’m leaning into can often speak things right into my head in those moments of silence.

That’s just what happened. Here’s what I heard:

Yes, I’m watching you. Because I love you.

BAM.

Seriously. My mind was blown. What a paradigm shift. 

He is watching. He is observing me. But with a completely different intention than I presumed.

This is how we roll, isn’t it? We make assumptions about what others think or where they’re coming from or what they think about us – and those assumptions impact so many things about us – how we behave, how we value ourselves, how we trust others…

And we can get it so wrong. 

And doesn’t it make sense that we would perceive God in a similar fashion? Regardless of what we’ve been taught, or what we think we are supposed to believe. We’re human, and we function out of our humanity.

Back to that moment of silence: I had another thought, swimming up from a verse I learned years ago. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand. Quickly, I went to look up that verse.

I found it in Psalm 121 – and in that moment came another explosion.

See, just one week ago, my husband and I spent my birthday driving around central Virginia. I wanted to go to the mountains, and so we did. Because it rained all day long, we didn’t get out and explore – just drove. We did a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was beautiful, as mountains can be in fog and mist.

And yet, coming around a curve, the skies opened a bit and I caught a glimpse of an amazing vista. We pulled over and I got out; I just stood, in awe, basking in the glory of creation and something so much bigger than myself. IMG_1309

These words came to mind: I lift my eyes to the hills; where does my help come from? I looked it up.

Psalm 121.

Same bit of poetry, same song. Seven days from one nudge to the next – from a tall, blonde woman standing in the rain with her arms outstretched in honor of the beauty before her, drenched in praise – to the still, small voice of the divine, mysterious Presence saying, I see you. My arms aren’t crossed; they are open wide, like yours were last week on that mountain. I saw you then. I see you now. 

I love you.

BAM. Mind, blown.

 

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