I have just returned from Nottingham, attending studies in reflective practice and pastoral supervision. Like many things which we return to as adults, I am thoroughly appreciating the challenge of learning more about psychological processes and putting my theological knowledge and experience into practice. On this particular module, the group was presented with a challenge by two of our fellow students. They asked whether our faith had been formed and nurtured by false images of God?! We quickly covered the area of meaning around what is ‘truth’ and what is ‘false.’ Some of us wanted to introduce a little more nuance and suggested that context was key as well as our personal experience of being parented and loved (or not) as the case may be.
This business of being drawn to an image of God goes very deep. It involves the unconscious processes which are present in our behaviour and our belief systems. One unconscious process, in particular, is apparent, in the construction of our personal image of God. This mysterious but very human process is called transference- the redirection (or transfer) of feelings and desires particular from childhood or the earliest attachments toward another person in the present moment. So, it would be difficult (but not impossible) to have a positive transference to God the Father if ones own father was a sadistic bully! On the other hand, it might be quite possible to be drawn into the community of the Holy Trinity if the early experiences of family life were about sharing, celebrating and empathising.
I wonder how our earliest experiences characterise our own image of God? What are we drawn to and what might repel us? This is an area of faith that I would like to explore in the course that I am offering over Lent, An Explorer’s Guide to Christianity, a short course for people who have questions about the Christian faith. It might be that after consideration and conversation we could conclude that God is mystery, unknowable and therefore unexplainable! The problem with this conclusion is that God was incarnate, born in the flesh. Jesus did have a face! But what sort of face?
The icon writers have attempted to re-create the image of God through Christ. Their art is a contemplative process, praying the icon into life. An icon was presented to the group. One student made an astonishing observation whilst looking at an icon of Jesus, she spoke for all of us, “We see Jesus wholly human, saturated in divine love.” But there is a final twist here that we understand we are made in God’s image. So, God know’s us, what we look like, what we sound like, who we are. God sees us as divine, he cannot separate us from his own divine image. The next time you see a reflection of yourself know that you are of God, saturated in divine life.