Saturday, February 21, 2015

In His Own Image


Genesis 1:26-27: “And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.  And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  (Torah)

Thusly provides one explanation for the Creation of human beings.  And possibly also an explanation of the physical form of human beings – “in our image, after our likeness.”  For many people, this leads to the belief that we look like God, and thereby God looks like us.  Hence God represented as the grandfatherly human being in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.  Yes, there are three billion individual versions of human beings on this planet, so the detail can vary considerably.  But the essence of “human form” is common between us and God.  Or is it?

An “image” can also be a conceptualization in one’s mind.  In one’s “imagination.”  A visual artist imagines a painting; a musician creates a song; an architect designs a building.  Not as a “likeness” but as a realization of an image conceived in thought.  There is an intention, an intuitive mental fragment, which gives way to something real and substantial.  It moves from the hidden obscurity of the creator’s mind into a substance interpretable by one or more of our senses.

And so it may be that God’s image for us was not a reproduction of form, but an actualization of God’s imagination (image) for what we would be.  In that image was some physical form, but also Purpose, Context, and Setting for our humanness.  And part of that human context is imagination itself.  The capacity for imagination is its own gift passed on from God as part of the creation of us, our own ability to be “a creator” just as God is “the Creator.”

Why is this question of “image” even important?  Unless and until we come to see God “face-to-face,” the question is truly unanswerable  in our human lifetime.  Yet the question of whether God is of human form, a circulating electronic energy field, or is no definable form at all, can influence our expectations of, and relationship to, God.

Envisioning God as Michelangelo’s grandfatherly presence – a human God – risks seeing and understanding God as limited to the constraints of human capabilities, yet God is surely beyond the scope of human capabilities.  Conversely, God in human form can suggest that we are equivalent to God, exalting us far beyond what is warranted when it is humility that is always expected of us.  God is in each of us, and each of us is in God.  But we are not God.  We simply strive “to be as God.”

Yet if we accept the unknowable ambiguity of God’s form, and any resemblance of us to it, then that void of mystery keeps us open to, and accepting of, the infinite reality that God truly is.  “God” is a transcendent scope far beyond our imagination, part of a Universe our human minds cannot begin to understand, existing in a reality so different from the human world that we can never fully comprehend it in our human lifetime.  And so an “imageless God” keeps us always searching, never complacent, ever humble, always expansive in our search for the Truth that is God.  In Truth, we are more likely to find God when we accept God’s vast ambiguity than when we seek God’s specificity.

The early Hebrews had it right.  The God beyond naming (Yahweh) is the God beyond knowing.  It is all right if God is beyond our imagination to visualize.  It is sufficient that we are within God’s imagination of us.  And that God created us as the realized image from that imagination.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Spiritual Parent


Parenting is hard work.  That statement is certainly no surprise to someone who is, or has been, an active, connected parent.  Or has been an engaged member of the collective community with some partial responsibility for the raising of a child.

It is hard because every child is a unique human being, and therefore requires a teaching approach that corresponds to that uniqueness.  Even if certain common outcomes across such diversity are deemed desirable by society.

It is hard because parent and child, teacher and student, are both moving targets.  The child is continually growing, changing, maturing, moving through new experiences – all of which require continually modified interactions.  But the parent, in spite of the appearance of being the knowing and experienced one, is also continually growing, changing, maturing, moving through new experiences –  requiring decisions to be continually made from an ever-changing knowledge base.  Both parent and child are seeing life anew every day.  So the parent must constantly adapt from being a changing teacher to also being a changing student.  Lessons are re-formed each day.  Yesterday’s Lesson is not today’s Lesson.

It is hard because the quantity and content of interaction between parent and child diminishes over the lifetimes of each.  Starting from total, all-consuming interaction with an infant, each year that interplay is reduced as the child becomes more independent and self-sufficient.  The words from the parent become more muted as the child finds its own voice.  The responsibility for that gradual disengagement lies with the parent, both in quantity and the content chosen for discussion.  The pacing of disengagement is crucial, yet the measurement of a parent’s effectiveness in this can only be determined well after the fact.

It is hard because the child needs guidance from the parent.  But simply telling the child to “do this” is not guidance; that only creates a rote human being unable to think and decide on its own.  It is hard because the child needs honest assessment, but constant judgment and criticism neuters the child’s sense of worth and self-assuredness.  How easily good intentions can get lost in the forest of a parent’s many thoughts and actions.

It is hard because we are tempted by reflex to think and act from our own belief system and our own vision for the child’s eventual outcomes.  Yet our true parental Charge is to help the child discover its own belief system and reach his/her own outcomes, regardless of how much or little it may parallel our life.  We are entrusted to assist a brand new standalone life, not to have a second chance at reliving our own life.

It is hard because it requires infinite patience and unshakable love, regardless of the child’s outcomes.  Yet it also requires unclouded objectivity to see those outcomes clearly and unadorned through unblinded lenses.  “Support” and “concurrence” remain two distinctly different interactions between parent and child.

This is the parent we ideally seek to model.  But it is the parent God already is.  Not the parent of our bodies teaching us life survival skills; that is the job of our human parents.  God is the parent of our spirit, that true essence of our genuine and transcendent Self.  To that Self, God brings tailored teachings as we transition to different phases of our life; gradually withdraws engagement with us as we grow, though never fully leaving us; continually guides us and does not dictate to us, while expecting us to draw our own conclusions and then to test and act upon those.  God does so for each of us individually in our lifetime; for us as a collective, maturing humanity of civilization over centuries.  God does all of this with unbreakable love and patience, while being always available and alongside of us.  It is a spiritual relationship, a union, such that as we each exist independently, so we also exist interdependently.  The line that separates us with God and among each other is infinitesimally minute.

The relationship between God and the spiritual child never ends.  It is a relationship that we are obligated to continually explore, perfect, nurture and draw upon.  For our life, our very existence, are inseparable from God.  To fulfill that relationship obligates both God and us to perform our respective roles in that mutual connection.  For in the end, it is this relationship that transcends all of our daily human endeavors.  It is this relationship that matters most of all.

© 2015   Randy Bell