Finding God in relationships


9 May 2018

Meister Eckhart, 14th century German mystic, provides me with the most profound, most challenging image of God—that each one of us is to bear Christ in us. What attracts me also is his image of God being born out of nothingness. ‘I once had a dream in which I, even though a man, was pregnant like a woman with child. I was pregnant with nothingness; and out of this nothingness God was born.’

Ron Rolheiser provides the opposite image—in this life, we are like babies in the womb of God, safe, provided for but at the same restricted by the confines of the womb and unable to see God, on whom we are utterly dependent; death is our second birth into new life we can’t imagine while in the womb.

These two images are profound but as human beings, they can be hard to imagine and relate to, being both parent to, and child of, God at the same time. It is hard for men to imagine themselves being pregnant, and it’s hard to imagine ourselves being babies in God’s womb. However, these images convey the intimacy and utter dependency that can only be experienced between mother and child in her womb.

Easier to relate to and more practical to our human experience is that of relating to God as father or mother. The relationship between parents and children is the strongest bond we can know. Blood is thicker than water. However, we all have experiences of dysfunction within our families. Being human, we are all imperfect. Some of us may not have the closest relationship with our parents which will colour our relationship with God if that is how we see God, as father or mother.

We may relate to Jesus as our sibling. Unless we are the only child of our family, we have relationships with siblings. For me, it is helpful to think of God as being like my sisters. I tell my sisters, Teresa and Gertrude, everything, and they accept me as I am, well mostly. For some, however, sibling rivalry is a real thing, as shown by our first siblings, Cain and Abel.

We may relate to God as best friend. I have friends in whom I can confide. One friend, Nicole, is honest and straightforward. She would tell me exactly what she thinks which I appreciate. Another friend, Margaret, has been available like a hotline I used to call at tumultuous times of my life, like ‘my rock, my stronghold, so that I stand unwavering’ (Ps 62:6).

We may relate to God as therapist. I have generally found therapists to be not as helpful because I do not know the therapist’s background, because they are trained and can be too careful in what they say. Relationship with parents, siblings and friends is a two-way street. Both sides give and take. Relationship with therapists is more like a one-way street in which we tell them everything we want to, while they reveal little of nothing of themselves.

We may relate to God as Spirit. My parents have died but their spirits live on. Now in union with God, they can love me the way I wanted them to love me, unrestricted by their own lack of parental love and lack of time to give attention to their 13 children. My sister, Mary, and my brother, William, were shackled by the burdens they carried when they were on earth. The memory of deceased ones reminds me that the things that pass away are not important, helps to put things in perspective.

We relate to God in all these ways of relating to humans that we have. However, our relationship with God has some differences because God is invisible and we cannot hear him speak. God speaks to us through our family and friends, through Scripture, good books, poetry, art, music and nature. All these people and things reveal to us various aspects of God’s face. Ultimately, however, the absolute, ineffable, unknowable face of God is revealed to us in silence. ‘Silence is God’s first language’, says John of the Cross. This is echoed by Rumi, ‘Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation. ’ So I try to be silent, to still my mind by mantra meditation, using the mantra, ‘maranatha,’ which means ‘Come, Lord’. A spiritual, devout friend, Mary, asked, ‘Who talks like that, repeating the word “come” unceasingly? I don’t talk to my husband like that.’ It was a good question, and made me doubt practising mantra meditation until I realise that our relationship with God is not exactly like our human relationships. We can hear our friends and family talk back. We cannot hear God talk unless we are silent. Many outside noises and voices distract us from hearing God’s voice. Our inner voices also clamour for our attention. The way to silence those many voices is to focus our mind on our breathing and/or on one word or phrase, our mantra. In silence, we may experience the ‘nothingness’ out of which God is born.

I find it easier and more helpful to relate to God as father/mother, to Jesus as best friend/brother/sister, to the Holy Spirit as spirit of loved ones who are no longer physically present in my life. At the same time, I find the images of me being in the womb of God (‘in Him I live and move and have my being,’ Acts 17:28), and me being pregnant with Christ, becoming more Christ-like as Christ grows in me, as profound images of God and me being one, a relationship of deep intimacy that is beyond any human relationship I have experienced and any relationship imaginable.

“On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” Jn 14:20

Susie Hii is a writer and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy.
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