This piece was also featured as a nationally syndicated column with GateHouse Media.
Recently, I got to wondering what it would be like to FaceTime God. You know, like when we FaceTime our friends or family with a real-time video image on our smart phones. If we did this with God, who would we see?
In a way, prayer is like FaceTime. We bow our head or close our eyes, ring God up, and perhaps an image pops into our mind.
Growing up, I was pretty clear that God looked like Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter. And why not? The scriptures I remember hearing were ones 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? What do you see now? 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 Spanish 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 is born with a genetic code or microchip that has “the” image of God. From birth on, we gather information from sources such as our families, our religious upbringing, and our culture to construct our own personal view of God.
Why does this matter? Because the image of God we use in prayer drives how we engage with God.
For example, most of our liturgy today is couched in male language—specifically, father language. This is not necessarily a problem unless it 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 than the other. One parent may have encouraged more of a “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” interaction, and the other an intimate conversation for hours. Thus, our prayers may be very different based on which image we use.
And that’s just gender. What if you imagine God as a young person versus an old person? Or as someone of a different race or culture? What if you imagine God as someone who smiles and laughs? Or as someone who cries with you during prayer?
We all know that God is beyond titles or descriptions. But it is human nature to want to imagine or “see” God during prayer. As you pray and “FaceTime” God this week, try to open yourself 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.
— A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She is the author of two books,Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines, as well as a nationally known speaker on the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.