Arts and Culture

Images of God and Us

I suspect that for years people will be sharing stories about experiences they had during the pandemic. I know I hope I don’t forget some of the experiences I had. One I heard about recently sums up the kind of concern and encouragement that some people express toward one another during a pandemic. It is an experience that reminds me of the goodness of people.

“God the Father on a throne, with Virgin Mary and Jesus,” Westphalia, Germany, late 15th century. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A close friend of mine had been recuperating from a long illness. His nephew, a physical therapist, took him out every day to help him learn to walk again. The impact, physical, psychological and spiritual that his nephew had on my friend was marvelous.

One day the two of them were walking through a park. My friend was using a walker for assistance. At one point his nephew took the walker and urged his uncle to try to jog. My friend did his best but I am sure no one in the park thought he was training for a marathon. As my friend jogged for a few steps, a group of people sitting on a park bench began to applaud. That image captures how the best in people frequently appeared during the pandemic!

I found myself, during the pandemic, using images of God and lines from Sacred Scripture that fit nicely with the images of God that the Church is presenting during this season of Advent.

One image was of God as Father. I was blessed to have as a human father an extraordinary human being. Of course I may be a little prejudiced but I think everyone who knew my dad saw him as someone special, a really good person. Wherever we find genuine human goodness, we Catholics believe it is an image of the goodness of God. During the pandemic believing that God is a Father Who loves us beyond our capacity to imagine has helped me.

A line from Sacred Scripture that has entered my mind frequently is “Be still and know that I am God.” The pandemic has forced us to spend a great deal of time alone. I suspect that many of us had new experiences in prayer. We might not have had these experiences if the pandemic had not happened. I believe that through these experiences God was calling us to a deeper relationship. The pandemic has been a very difficult experience but God is not absent during a pandemic.

Another line from Sacred Scripture that I often find both consoling and challenging is “For those who love God all things work together unto good.” I believe that line tells us a profound truth about God and about ourselves. No one wants a pandemic but even in a pandemic the Holy Spirit is trying to lead us into a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father. It is awesome that every experience, even those we most want to avoid, even those that might frighten us, can be used by God to shower us with love.

When our relationship with God deepens either through a pandemic or through experiencing the season of Advent, this does not mean that the change is limited to the period of the pandemic or to the season of Advent. A relationship has changed. That change can and should endure and continue to deepen.

I think of two persons in love. There will be some experiences, for example the period of being engaged or the celebration of their marriage, that can deeply transform the couple. If there is a real change, a genuine transformation, there is every reason to believe that there need be no regression. Rather something new has happened and that something can continue to be transforming.

In trying to comment on our relationship with God, copying great theologians, I refer to the virtues of faith, hope and charity to illuminate that relationship. In doing this I do not want to divide a person’s life into three distinct, even separate parts, neatly labeled faith, hope and charity. I doubt that a person’s faith can deepen without influencing the person’s hope and charity.

In other words, a person is a dynamic, active entity and when we reflect on a person’s relationship with God, we want to remember that we are not talking about some part of the person. Rather we are talking about the center of the person, what some philosophers refer to as the subjectivity of the person. Some authors refer to the center as the heart. What I am trying to stress is that a pandemic and the season of Advent may be opportunities for someone to change not superficially but profoundly.

Let us never minimize the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is impossible to place too much trust in God.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.

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