Welcome to one of our most introspective, crucial and formative practice.  This is one that should be repeated throughout our lives and growth as contemplatives.  It is one that offers insight and fulfillment no matter how many times we have gone through the exercise.  It is a crucial practice as growing contemplatives, because the aim of the contemplative is to experience the Divine in every moment.  If we have created a single image of God, or are not aware of what we project onto God because of our image of God, then we have limited our experience of the limitless.  To break this, we offer the practice of the Faces of God:
 
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4-5)
 
No matter how we are raised, we will inevitably form in our minds a distinct vision of God, whether as an old man with a long white beard sitting upon a golden throne, or a humbled figure playing in the dirt, with grubby fingernails and a wide contented grin spread across his face.  Whatever vision it is that we have, we must realize that it cannot be the only vision we see of Him, or Her for that matter.
 
To truly experience God, we must be comfortable finding Him in the most unlikely places.  We must be willing to accept that God will be in places we do not expect.  If we have a strict view of God, and cling fiercely to that view, and are afraid to see anything else, then we are no longer loving and worshiping God as God really is but instead we are worshipping an idol that we have made of Him.  How many Christians, regardless of denomination, have a very singular view of the god that they hold above all others?  Is the god you see only a male god?  Is the god you see only a female god?  Is the god you see a jealous god?  Is your god an angry god that seeks only to punish those you deem as sinner around you?  Is your god an apathetic god that lets you do as you will and will never take part in you life? Is your god a manipulative god that meddles in your life?  Is your god a wealthy god that has no time for the poor and believes that we are successful only by our own efforts?  Is your god an obedient god that should come when called and answer every prayer you put before him?
 
What image comes to mind when you think of God?
 
God, the Divine, the Spirit, is above us and beyond us yet apart of us and known to us.  To help us break from idolatrous views we have created, let us wrestle for the moment with the paradox of God.  Take time to meditate with each of these and observe what comes to mind.
 
“God is really every thing we see.  God could never really be anything that we see.”
 
“God has all faces.  God has no face.”
 
‘We are all God.  None of us can be God.”
 
When God calls us to task and commands that we worship no idol before God, then in this regard he is calling us to be brave enough to worship God in ALL that He is, not just the idol that we think He should be for us.  Ask yourself: If you are afraid to see God in any other light other than what you are comfortable with, where in your life have you missed seeing God?
 
As an exercise in expanding our view of God and seeing God in different lights, let us try on different faces for God, preferable face that would make us uncomfortable.  Imagine, as it were, that you have arrived at the pearly gates (yes, cliche, I know), and that God is there waiting to let you in.  What does God look like in that vision?  Now, try to see God as someone else.
 
If you see God as an old white man beckoning you with a wrinkled hand to come inside, imagine seeing God standing there as a black woman, hand on hip and about to slap your ass as you walk by to hurry you up through the door.  No?  Why not?
 
Remember, cognitive dissonance is where God happens.  Every time God or Jesus taught a lesson it was by making those around them uncomfortable.  So here, do not run from the discomfort.  Face it, and see where God is in it.
 
What vision of God rubs you the wrong way the most?  A woman?  A man?  A white God?  A black God?  A Mexican God?  A straight God or a gay God?  Whatever it is, put that image in your head and just sit with it.  And when you’re done, remember that no matter what image we have, whether it’s one we like or don’t like, it can never really accurately portray God.  That image you see, whether one you dislike or like, cannot really be God.
 
But let us at least practice broadening our views and expectations of God so that we can eventually become comfortable in finding God in the people and places we would be most unlikely to expect it.
 
To really begin this process, we must first tackle the most common image of God that we have: God the Father. 
 
What images come to mind when you think of “father.”  What typical roles do we assign to fathers in our American culture?  Are they the providers?  The disciplinarians?  The strong and quiet types?  Are they distant or are they the ones in the midst of family life?  We all have father figures we can point to in our childhoods.  It may not even be your biological father.  A male teacher, a priest, even an older brother can sometimes be the father figure for us when we are young.  Some of the aspects of these father figures are positive, others negative.  Once you have a father figure in mind, ask yourself what expectations you have of that role they played in your life as a father.  Now, ask yourself what of those roles have you projected onto God as Father.  Which are deserved?  Which are not?  At what points have you gotten frustrated with God because you were expecting Him to act as the “father” you thought he should be but wasn’t working to your projected expectations?  For the sake of example, let’s take the father as disciplinarian.  In the home, especially coming out of America’s 1950s, it was assumed the father laid down the law and doled out punishment.  “Just wait till your father gets home!” was the common threat.  Now, where have we expected God to be the disciplinarian?  When have we expected punishment for our “sins?”  Moreover, when have we expected God to punish others?  If we know we are “right” and they are “wrong”, then obviously God will punish them.  It is not a far step from there to say, because we know we are “right” and they are “wrong”, we will punish them because we are God’s chosen instrument of retribution.  If we believe God is judgemental, then we become judgemental on behalf of God. 
 
This is hardly a healthy form of spiritual growth.  Jesus spent a great deal of his time teaching trying to get across the idea of not judging, after all.  But when we call God the “Father,” are we aware of what we may be projecting onto God without even knowing?
 
For this and all other exercises of these lesson series, I want you to journal as your means of prayer.  You may spend time in silence after, contemplating each different face we cover, but I want you to journal each time for two reasons.  One, you can look back later and see connections or contrasts as we go through this series.  Second, writing enables a more structured flow of thought.  Remember, that when we journal, we do so as prayer.  That is to say, no matter how you journal, whether as a letter or just flow of consciousness, you do so intentionally with God present in the conversation.  For a synopsis of spiritual journalling, read here: http://www.ordersaintanthony.org/resources/Spiritual+Journal.jpg
 
As you journal for this lesson, first identify who was a father figure in your life as a child.  Then discuss or list what characters or roles that father figure filled.  Then, ask yourself where you have expected God to be like that.  Sometimes God does fill the role of Father for us, other times He does not; at least not as we think a father should be.  Where have assumptions of God the “Father” gotten in our way? 
 
I leave you to your journals/blogs.  Be with God and Christ in prayer, and see where He is asking you to grow.  God’s Peace.
 
Silentio Coram Deo,
Br. Kenneth

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