Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we’ve learned until well after the fact. A few years ago while studying pastoral theology at Loyola Marymount University, a classroom exercise created a shift in my thinking.
The professor, Dr. Wilkie Au, known for his spiritual writing and spiritual direction, passed out a sheet of paper divided in four squares. Each square guided the readers to reflect on their image of God at different junctures of life: first as children, taught by parents and teachers; second, as the God to whom they pray; third, as God resulting from personal experiences; and finally, how these images affect their lives in relationship with God.
I remember the evening well because of my lack of response. I could not wrap my head around all of this and I wondered where it was going. After a period of reflection, students were asked to share their responses. I kept quiet and marveled at some of the responses.
Apparently, I was stuck in 1957 at St. Luke’s grammar school because God did not manifest as a beautiful sunset, a meadow or a blooming rose. I felt foolish and kept my head down hoping that eventually I would “get it.” What was it that some of the other students were experiencing that I was not?
Fast forward a few years. While still maintaining God as Lord and King — a childhood image reinforced by liturgical songs and feast days — God shows up in many other places with greater clarity. This is due partly to the influence of an Ignatian Facebook post that appears regularly on my page asking readers where they see God on any given day. The pictures and stories offer food for thought, if only for the fleeting Facebook moment.
It took deliberate intention to move internal rewiring from the God of might and grandeur to the God of every day — a place that feels more comfortable, more loving and far more accessible. There is no doubt that the face of God shows up in the tiny new baby that graces the family. In fact, due to the amazing technology of high resolution ultrasounds, we see the baby only a few months into the pregnancy and can follow his/her development until birth, when even the most skeptical among us marvels at the miracle of a newborn.
God is certainly manifested in the faces and hands of nurses who never flinch as they perform tasks of basic personal care or highly technical procedures for sick patients. Their smiles, patience and kindness are signs of God among us.
Young boys playing street hockey in front of their house or teenage girls travelling in groups of three or four through the mall laughing and talking a mile a minute, seemingly oblivious to the complications of life, are also views of the face of God.
My 94-year-old father holds on to the God of his younger years — God as judge — but of late he has begun to see God as parent — mother and father. He thoughtfully refers to people he does not see eye to eye with as children of God. He is reminding himself and us that there is the goodness of God even in that which causes us distress.
The beauty of nature, the tremendous changing sky and everyone we love and cherish are all easy reminders of God. But what about people begging on the street, holding up signs asking for food or money? What about the man who wanders into church on Sunday, obviously not part of the regular community, dressed in dirty clothes and not quite following the protocol of sitting, standing or receiving Communion? They too offer us the face of God, even though that realization sometimes takes longer to emerge.
Since December I have a new reminder of the brilliance of God in a small dog we adopted. She challenges me daily but also brings with her a new awareness of the presence of God and how all creation needs protection and care.
I still cannot adequately articulate an image of God. But I know that the goodness of God, the love of God for all creatures and creation is everywhere if time is taken to recognize it.
Anne Hansen is a member of the Camarillo Catholic community and regional director for Ignatian Volunteer Corps Los Angeles.