As I was Skyping a few friends this week, I started thinking about how things have changed in terms of how we stay in touch. Used to be, we’d simply send a post card. Today, we tweet, text, email, and of course – Skype. Thanks to this cool software program, you can talk to anyone with a Skype connection anywhere in the world for free! But here’s the coolest part: it’s not just voice. There is also a video component, so your conversation is held via a real time image on your screen.
It made me wonder what it would be like to Skype God? Then I realized — we already do. Just like on Skype when my friend’s video image pops up, so too in prayer, when we bow our heads an image of God usually pops up in our mind’s eye. So here’s the question: When we bow our heads to pray, who do we see?
Is God male or female? Black or white? How old is God? If God talks back, what does God sound like? Does God speak English or Farsi? What is God wearing? What is God doing while you pray? Reclining in a chair or a throne? Taking notes or staring out the window?
None of us was born with a genetic code or microchip that has “the” image of God. From birth on, we gather information from sources like our families, our religious upbringing, and our culture to construct our personal image of God.
Growing up, I was pretty clear that God resembled Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. And why not? The scriptures I remember hearing were like Deuteronomy 28:22: “The LORD shall smite thee with consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.”
Yup. High Plains Drifter.
And the images I was exposed to in church didn’t help. Every Sunday, this scary judgmental God stared back at me from the stained glass windows surrounding our pew. On the right hand side near the front was a depiction of God drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. On the left hand side was a very unhappy Jesus hanging on a cross. The window in the back had God destroying the world with a flood. This was not a God you wanted to annoy.
Think about your own upbringing. What holy images did you learn to see? It’s important to be aware of the image of God we use in prayer because how we image God drives how we interact with God. Let me offer an example.
Most of our liturgy today is based on male language and specifically father language. This is not necessarily a problem unless, of course, that is the only language we use. When God is father, we tend to project all the parental baggage around that term onto God. And if God is mother, we do the same. Think of how you communicated with your mother versus your father. There were probably things you felt more comfortable telling one and not the other. One parent may have encouraged more of a “yes” “no” “maybe” kind of conversation and the other an intimate conversation for hours. Our prayers may be very different based on which image we use.
And that’s just gender. What if you imaged God as a young person versus an old person? Or of a different race or culture? What if you imagined a God that smiled or laughed? Or a God who would cry with you during prayer?
We all know God is beyond titles or descriptions. But it is human nature to want to imagine or “see” God during prayer. As you are “Skyping” God this week, try and open up to new images of God you haven’t considered. You may well discover a level of intimacy and honesty you didn’t know was possible.