Week Forty-Eight: Images of God
Week Forty-Eight Summary and Practice November 28 – December 3, 2021
There is an absolute connection between how we see God and how we see ourselves and the universe. —Richard Rohr
Our DNA is divine, and the divine indwelling is never earned by any behavior or any ritual, but only recognized and realized (see Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–10) and fallen in love with. —Richard Rohr
I have allowed God to be mediated to me through images of God foreign to the very idea of God: God the puppeteer, God the potentate, God the persecutor make a mockery of the very definition of God. —Joan Chittister
Although Jesus was clearly of the masculine gender, the Universal Christ is beyond gender, and so it should be expected that the Big Tradition would have found feminine ways, consciously or unconsciously, to symbolize the full Divine Incarnation and to give God a more feminine character—as the Bible itself often does. —Richard Rohr
In its truest sense, religion should reconnect human beings—bind them again—to the creation, to one another, to the Divine, to Love. —Jacqui Lewis
Either we see the divine image in all created things, or we end up not seeing it very well at all. —Richard Rohr
God the Nourisher
The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Sirach 24:30 
At the seventh and final CONSPIRE conference that took place in September of this year, Father Richard led the gathered online community in contemplative prayer using this maternal image of God.
Without exaggerating I think we can say that all of us live in the mirror of others’ eyes. We’re told that the first time a child can focus their eyes it’s almost exactly the number of inches between the mother’s breast and the child’s eyes, and that’s why the child becomes fixated on the mother. In fact, they become fixated on one another. Science tells us that what’s happening on the neural level is that there’s a huge release of oxytocin, the big joy hormone. It’s like “Wow, this is good!” Neither of them wants to leave.  This is apparently the creation of “mirror neurons” in both mother and child, which makes them capable of attachment, intimacy, and basic relationship.
When we’re sitting in prayer, we’re waiting for a gaze like that—one we can trust will not change, a gaze that is utterly reliable. We’re waiting for a gaze that will fixate on us, tell us that we’re good, we’re special, we’re enough, we’re beloved. Choose your good word because it’s always a good word! I’d go so far as to say this is the beginning of the inner journey of transformation. We spend the rest of our lives, through friends and partners and even our own children, searching for a repeat of that gaze that matters.
This gaze is our entrance into the trinitarian flow and once we’re there, we’re there. Now we have to keep re-choosing it, being reminded of it, allowing it. That’s what we’re doing when we sit in contemplative prayer. Just sitting, allowing the gaze, choosing the gaze, enjoying the divine gaze. Eventually we do have to come out of the eternal gaze as our prayer sit ends, but not really. Stay in the trinitarian flow, which isn’t mere theology, but the very shape of the universe.
In Christian metaphysics we gave each entity of the Trinity a placeholder name, but I want to offer some new names so that we can really hang on to the feeling of it. The Mother is ironically the one we call “Father.” She’s inaugurating the gaze toward the child, whom we call the “Son” (“Daughter” would work just as well, except that Jesus was male). The Child then returns the gaze that was given and received. It’s a bounce back of identity, and thus we have this eternal delighting, loving, admiring, allowing between two—God and Creation.
What then is the third element which keeps the dynamic moving? It is rather perfectly symbolized by the “Divine breast” that feeds and nurtures the Child and is thus being handed over to feed and nurture everything else. It’s not risky theology at all. In fact, it’s almost too perfect, and I hope it helps us to stay in that loving gaze and flow all day long, even as we change places. Are we the giver, the receiver, the enjoyer, the feeder, the nurturer, the source? It doesn’t matter which role we’re momentarily in. Just stay in for the ride! Sometimes you are Lover, sometimes you are Beloved, and sometimes you are the “act” of Loving itself.
 This apocryphal book is included in Catholic but not Protestant Bibles. Also, Eckhart used the Latin Vulgate; today, his selected verse would be identified as Sirach 24:22.
 It’s well-demonstrated that bottle-fed babies and their mothers and caregivers also share these intimate gazing experiences and the benefits of this close and nurturing contact.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, CONSPIRE 2021 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2021).
Friday 3 December 2021 God Is Present in All
In keeping with his Franciscan tradition, Father Richard teaches that we can find God’s freely given image in all of creation, beginning with ourselves!
The purpose of prayer and religious seeking is to see the truth about Reality, to see what is. And at the bottom of what is is always goodness. The foundation is always love. Here is a mantra that we might repeat throughout our day: “God’s life is living itself in me. I am aware of life living itself in me.”
We cannot not live in the presence of God. We are totally surrounded by God, even as we read these words. This not some New Age idea; recall St. Patrick’s (c. 373–c. 463) blessing, “God beneath you, God in front of you, God behind you, God above you, God within you.”
Once I can see the Mystery here, and trust the Mystery even in this piece of clay that I am, then I can also see it in you. We are eventually able to see the divine image within ourselves, in each other, and in all things. Finally, the seeing is one. How we see anything is how we will see everything.
Jesus pushes this seeing to the social edge. Can we recognize the image of Christ in the least of our fellow human beings? That is his only description of the final judgment (see Matthew 25). Nothing about ten commandments, nothing about church attendance—simply a matter of our ability to see. Can we meet Christ in the “nobodies” who can’t play our game of success? In those who cannot reward us in return? When we see the image of God where we are not accustomed to seeing the image of God, then we see with the infinitely tender eyes of God.
Finally, Jesus says we have to love and recognize the divine image even in our enemies (see Matthew 5:44). He teaches what many leaders, spiritual and otherwise, could never demand of their followers: love of the enemy. Logically that makes no sense. Yet soulfully it makes absolute sense, because in terms of the soul, it really is all or nothing. Either we see the divine image in all created things, or we end up not seeing it very well at all. There is a first epiphany, and gradually the circle keeps moving outward, widening its embrace. It is almost the core meaning of a whole and holy life!
The Christian vision is that the whole world is a sacred temple. If that is true, then our enemies are sacred, too. Who else created them but God? The ability to respect the outsider is probably the litmus test of true seeing. And it doesn’t stop with human beings and enemies and the “least of these.” It moves to frogs and water and weeds. Everything becomes enchanting once we have full sight. One God, one world, one truth, one suffering, and one love (see Ephesians 4:4–6). All we can do is participate and enjoy. I love to ask Christians—why would anyone be afraid of that?
Thursday 2 December 2021 God as Fierce Love
Like many of us, CAC friend Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis has struggled with both the possibility and the pain-points of religion. Healthy religion unites but toxic religion uses God to create more separation and hurt in the world:
Before I made my living talking about God, thinking about God, writing about God, I was a person struggling to have a relationship with God. I had been given a god to believe in, some mixture of what my parents believed, what my preachers taught over the years, and what my imagination made of the parts of the Bible I read. In my early twenties, I often had more doubt than faith—doubt in what I’d learned, doubt in what those teachings implied for my life and for the world. I was frustrated; how is a God whose name is Love appropriated to justify violence, hatred, and enmity around the world? Over and over again, I was struck by how religion—which means to bind together—gave humankind license to hurt others, to put people out, to leave people behind. . . .
In its truest sense, religion should reconnect human beings—bind them again—to the creation, to one another, to the Divine, to Love. Rituals, song, prayer, preaching, reflection, dancing, meditation—all of these religious practices are intended to bind us together in love and restrain us from harming one another. Religion should reconnect us to the ground of our being, to the source of our existence. . . . Religion should help us see how our biases about color, gender, sexuality, and class cause deep hurt to both body and soul.
Jacqui suggests there are harmful images and beliefs about God that need to be let go of before we are able to embrace God as Love:
Unfortunately, religion is too often weaponized. Wars are waged in the name of religion. People are enslaved and terrorized in the name of religion. Wealth has been amassed on the backs of the poor in the name of religion. I’m a Christian pastor, and these are things my tribe has done, all in the name of Jesus. Jews were exterminated, in the name of a poor, brown, Jewish baby who was at one time homeless and at another a refugee.
If humankind is to thrive, we need to let go of any religion that wounds and kills. Some of what we believe about God is actually about us; at times we create God in our own image. In other words, some of us imagine God as punitive, angry, and vengeful because these are aspects of ourselves that make us feel powerful and protected, rather than vulnerable. But we need to exercise a spiritual imagination free of fear and shed the constraints of unhealthy religion. Hate-filled religion needs an exorcism!
In the interest of exorcising hate, I find myself preaching and teaching folks to see through the eyes of Love, to believe with all their heart in Love. I invite them to worship Love, to pray to Love, to be part of Love.
Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness that Can Heal the World (Harmony: 2021), 129–130, 193–194.
Wednesday 1 December 2021 God Is beyond Gender
Virtually all Christians are taught to call God “Father,” as Jesus did himself. Yet Richard understands the need for both masculine and feminine images of God. He writes:
I must invite us all to reclaim and honor female wisdom, which is often qualitatively different from male wisdom. I hope this perspective can invite you to trust your own experiences with the divine feminine as well. For many, it is an utterly new opening, since they always falsely assumed that God is somehow masculine.
Although Jesus was clearly of the masculine gender, the Universal Christ is beyond gender, and so it should be expected that the Big Tradition would have found feminine ways, consciously or unconsciously, to symbolize the full Divine Incarnation and to give God a more feminine character—as the Bible itself often does. 
New Mexico friend and mystic Mirabai Starr offers images of God as female and feminine, which is affirming and healing for many people.
Your God transcends gender. And yet She is also Mother. She is Shekhinah, pillar of holy fire, guiding you through the wilderness. She is Sophia and Al-Hakim, the essence of Wisdom, filling your troubled heart and telling you exactly what needs to be done next. She is Jamal, beauty, and Sakina, serenity. She is Rahim, the merciful source of all life. She is Shakti, coursing through your veins when you cry out for God, infusing you with unbearable longing. She is Guanyin, radiating well-being. She is Tara, formed from the Buddha’s own tears as he gazed upon the suffering of the world and wept. She is Miriam, Mary, Maryam.
You feel Her closest when you are shattered and when you are exalted. She dives into the heart of the tidal wave and scoops you into Her arms, promising that no matter how disastrous the disaster, She will always be with you. She is in the front row clapping too loudly when you get it right. Your God sneaks you in the back door to daven with the learned men in the synagogue. She whispers in your ear when you are trying to control yourself: Go ahead, She says, break the alabaster jar and cover His feet with priceless nard.
Your God transcends form. And yet She also dwells within every created thing. She animates all that is growing and going to seed, all that is ripened and fragrant, all that is raw and undomesticated. She dwells in creativity, in beauty, in chaos. She breathes with the laboring female animals, breathes with the newborn’s first inhalation, breathes with the old ones as they exhale one last time. She is the passion of lovers, the dignity of the queen. She is merciful, but She is not the least bit sentimental.
You do not mean to break the rules and call Her God. You try not to even conceive of God that way. But sometimes you can’t help it. Everything that feels holy feels like Her.
 Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019, 2021), 121–122.
Mirabai Starr, God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Monkfish Book Publishing Company: 2012), 155–156.
Tuesday 30 November 2021 What Kind of God Do We Believe In?
Author and Benedictine sister Joan Chittister catalogs how some of the most common images of God influence our behavior and reminds us that we can choose more helpful and loving images.
In the long light of human history, then, it is not belief in God that sets us apart. It is the kind of God in which we choose to believe that in the end makes all the difference. Some believe in a God of wrath and become wrathful with others as a result. Some believe in a God who is indifferent to the world and, when they find themselves alone, as all of us do at some time or another, shrivel up and die inside from the indifference they feel in the world around them. Some believe in a God who makes traffic lights turn green and so become the children of magical coincidence . . . . Some believe in a God of laws and crumble in spirit and psyche when they themselves break them or else become even more stern in demanding from others standards they themselves cannot keep. They conceive of God as the manipulator of the universe, rather than its blessing-Maker. . . .
I have known all of those Gods in my own life. They have all failed me. I have feared God and been judgmental of others. I have used God to get me through life and, as a result, failed to take steps to change life myself. I have been blind to the God within me and so, thinking of God as far away, have failed to make God present to others. I have allowed God to be mediated to me through images of God foreign to the very idea of God: God the puppeteer, God the potentate, God the persecutor make a mockery of the very definition of God. I have come to the conclusion, after a lifetime of looking for God, that such a divinity is a graven image of ourselves, that such a deity is not a god big enough to believe in. Indeed, it is the God in whom we choose to believe that determines the rest of life for us. In our conception of the nature of God lies the kernel of the spiritual life. Made in the image of God, we grow in the image of the God we make for ourselves. . . .
Chittister invites us to the prayerful inner work necessary to discover the God we really believe in, for the sake of encountering the true and living God:
Until I discover the God in which I believe, I will never understand another thing about my own life. If my God is harsh judge, I will live in unquenchable guilt. If my God is Holy Nothingness, I will live a life of cosmic loneliness. If my God is taunt and bully, I will live my life impaled on the pin of a grinning giant. If my God is life and hope, I will live my life in fullness overflowing forever.
Monday 29 November 2021 Finding Ourselves in God
Father Richard reminds us that we are created in the image and likeness of God, which offers us a solid foundation from which we can operate in the world.
The biblical creation story says, “Let us make humans in our image” (Genesis 1:26). The plural pronoun is a first hint that we are going to be brought into a relational, participatory, and shared life. The secret is somehow planted within our deepest identity and slowly reveals itself—if we are attentive to this “reverence humming in [us],” as Jane Fonda once described it. 
Our DNA is divine, and the divine indwelling is never earned by any behavior, group membership, or ritual whatsoever, but only recognized and realized (see Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–10) and thus fallen in love with. When we are ready, we will be both underwhelmed and overwhelmed at the boundless mystery of our own humanity. We will know we are standing under the same waterfall of mercy as everybody else and receiving an undeserved radical grace, which is the root cause of every ensouled being.
When I started in ministry in the early 1970s in Cincinnati and worked with young people, it seemed like I spent most of the time trying to convince teenagers that they were good. They all seemed to endlessly hate and doubt themselves, often with a little help from parenting and clergy. Later I saw it in adults, too, who were also well practiced in hating and fearing themselves. What the Scriptures promise us is that we are objectively and inherently children of God (see 1 John 3:2). And you can’t change that! This is not psychological worthiness; it is ontological, metaphysical, substantial worthiness that cannot be gained or lost. When this given God image becomes our operative self-image, we are home free! Such a Gospel is just about the best good news anyone could hope for!
I am convinced that so much guilt, negative self-image, self-hatred, and self-preoccupation occurs because we have taken our cues and identity from a competitive and comparing world. But Jesus told us to never take this world as normative. Jesus asks, “Why do you look to one another for approval instead of the approval that comes from the one God?” (John 5:44). So many of us accept either a successful or a low self-image inside of a system of false images to begin with! (Smart, good looking, classy, loser—are all just words humans create). This will never work. We must find our true self “hidden within Christ in God,” as Paul says in Colossians 3:3. Or, as Teresa of Ávila envisioned God telling her, “If you wish to find Me / In yourself seek Me.  Then we do not go up and down, but we are built on the Rock of Ages. It is the very shape of all spiritual maturity, regardless of what religion we may belong to.
 Anthony DeCurtis, “Jane Fonda,” Rolling Stone, no. 1025/1026 (May 2007): 102–5.
 Teresa, “Seeking God,” in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 3, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS Publications: 1985), 385.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 22; and
Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 55–56.
Sunday 28 November 2021 Creating God in Our Own Image
The Advent season begins with Scriptures that focus on the “second coming” of Christ. At times, this has been presented as a frightening event, exacerbated by the negative images of God which many Christians hold. Father Richard writes:
Your image of God creates you—or defeats you. There is an absolute connection between how we see God and how we see ourselves and the universe. The word “God” is a stand-in word for everything—Reality, truth, and the very shape of our universe. This is why good theology and spirituality can make such a major difference in how we live our daily lives in this world. God is Reality with a Face—which is the only way most humans know how to relate to anything. There has to be a face!
After years of giving and receiving spiritual direction, it has become clear to me and to many of my colleagues that most people’s operative image of God is initially a subtle combination of their mom and dad, or other early authority figures. Without an interior journey of prayer or inner experience, much of religion is largely childhood conditioning, which God surely understands and uses. Yet atheists and many former Christians rightly react against this because such religion is so childish and often fear-based, and so they argue against a caricature of faith. I would not believe in that god myself!
Our goal, of course, is to grow toward an adult religion that includes reason, faith, and inner experience we can trust. A mature God creates mature people. A big God creates big people. A punitive God creates punitive people.
If our mothers were punitive, our God is usually punitive too. We will then spend much of our lives submitting to that punitive God or angrily reacting against it. If our father figures were cold and withdrawn, we will assume that God is cold and withdrawn too—all Scriptures, Jesus, and mystics to the contrary. If all authority in our lives came through men, we probably assume and even prefer a male image of God, even if our hearts desire otherwise. As we were taught in Scholastic philosophy, “whatever is received is received in the manner of the receiver.”  This is one of those things hidden in plain sight, but it still remains well-hidden to most Christians.
All of this is mirrored in political worldviews as well. Good theology makes for good politics and positive social relationships. Bad theology makes for stingy politics, a largely reward/punishment frame, xenophobia, and highly controlled relationships.
For me, as a Christian, the still underdeveloped image of God as Trinity is the way out and the way through all limited concepts of God. Jesus comes to invite us into an Infinite and Eternal Flow of Perfect Love between Three—which flows only in one, entirely positive direction. There is no “backsplash” in the Trinity but only Infinite Outpouring—which is the entire universe. Yet even here we needed to give each of the three a placeholder name, a “face,” and a personality.
Image Credit: Rose B. Simpson, Genesis (detail), 2017, sculpture.
We featured the artist of these sculptures, Rose B. Simpson, at our recent CONSPIRE conference—so many of us were impacted by her creations that we decided to share her work with our Daily Meditations community for the month of November.
Image Inspiration: My art changed entirely when I became a parent. I never understood the true creative nature until I created a human being and the responsibility, the unconditional love, the fear, the intimacy and vulnerability that comes with it. . . and understand when we can love that deeply how we feel the presence of a larger parent.
—Rose B. Simpson, CONSPIRE Interview, 2021
Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.
Prayer For Our Community
Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world. Please add your own intentions . . . Knowing, good God, you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. Amen.
Listen to Father Richard pray this prayer aloud.
Story From Our Community
The more I read the meditations the more I think I should have been a Franciscan! Everything resonates with my heart and experience. I am soon entering my 80th year, and each day I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for the blessings I’ve been given. Even in the storms of life, God works miracles. So many thanks for the inspiring, sometimes challenging daily meditations.
Share your own story with us.
James Finley returns for the fourth season of Turning to the Mystics, a podcast for people searching for something more meaningful, intimate and richly present in the divine gift of their lives. This season, James will discuss the work of Guigo II and his concept of The Ladder of Monks. Guigo II’s time-tested practices invite us to reach deeper into ourselves while scaling the ladder of divine intimacy.
Past seasons have offered a modern take on the historical contemplative practices of Christian mystics like Thomas Merton, Teresa of Ávila, and John of the Cross. Leaning into their experiences can become a gateway to hope, healing and oneness.
Join Love.Period for Season 2
How can we embody more empathy and love in these “hot mess times?” Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis returns for the second season of our podcast, Love.Period. This season, Rev. Jacqui invites you to journey through her new book, Fierce Love. Chapter by chapter, memorable writers, activists, and fearlessly loving individuals from all walks of life join listeners in a wisdom journey to transform ourselves, our communities, and our world at large.
Do you yearn for a new vision of Christianity—one with love and justice at the core of its practice? Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Ph.D., animates a renewed faith for our times in her new podcast Love.Period. Writer, scholar, activist, and leader of a radically accepting congregation in New York City, Rev. Jacqui brings her devotion, clarity, and energy to this conversational podcast.
Visual Stillness: Follow the Daily Meditations Saturday Practices
Extend your daily moment of stillness with Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations with free videos available to stream on YouTube. These visual meditations set practices to scenes from the nature and everyday life, inviting you deeper into contemplative awareness. Be sure and subscribe to receive the latest content—new videos are added every Saturday.
How do we move forward when faced with seemingly insurmountable pain? In this free series of audio recordings, clinical psychologist and Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) teacher James Finley guides listeners into contemplative healing as a response to suffering. James outlines seven steps that intentionally invite spirituality onto the journey of healing trauma.
This series of talks were recorded in a pair of weekend retreats at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisconsin. They were sponsored by a grant from the Fetzer Institute and the mindfulness-based stress reduction program of the University of Wisconsin.
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