Often in a first spiritual direction session with someone, we’ll explore images and understandings of God. I’ll ask: What was your image of God as a child? And who do you understand God to be today? This is an important exercise not only because it informs us of the person’s faith journey, but it gives us an indication of one’s spiritual and prayer life
today. It helps me, as a spiritual director, understand how someone is relating to God, and it helps the person in spiritual direction reflect on how understandings of God have perhaps changed and shifted through life.
Continuing to plumb the depths of trying to understand God, I was fortunate to read, watch, and talk with Walter Brueggemann in my Literature of Ancient Israel course at Loyola. As a theologian, Brueggemann can help us understand the scriptural experience of God. He said that in Ancient Israel, God had a proper name, “Yahweh” or “Adonai.” God is named, known and embedded in the narrative account of the world. God emerges as a character and agent in history. Brueggemann says that there are two narratives that tell us
what the Old Testament says about God: first, God is a God of liberation as God
delivered the slaves from Egypt; second, God makes promises and covenants with
the people to trust and live out those promises.
Brueggemann contends that God didn’t simply find the Hebrew people ready and willing to take a new direction in their lives, but rather it was God’s self announcement and involvement that created a readiness for that action to take place. God is active in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. God is creating those conditions and environments to instill in our own hearts, minds and souls a desire for freedom, liberation, love, and
In An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible, Brueggemann characterizes this active and embedded God in relationship with us as a partner. He claims Yahweh has
four partners: Israel, the human person, nations, and creation. He says the overriding indicator of God in relationship is covenant. A covenantal relationship makes it impossible for God to be static. Instead, God is always emerging in new ways in response
to a particular relationship. In this interaction, new possibilities are awakened, as well as different demands are asked of each party in the relationship. Brueggemann quotes Jurgen Moltmann:
The prophets had no “idea” of God, but understood themselves and the people in the situation of God…It has nothing to do with the irrational human emotions like desire, anger, anxiety, envy or sympathy, but describes the way in which God is affected by
events and human actions and suffering in history. He is affected by them because he is interested in his creation, his people and his right. The pathos of God is intentional and transitive, not related to itself but to the history of the covenant people….
For Brueggemann, the partner, for example the human person, stands alongside Yahweh in engaging the world with tribulation and wonder. There is a dialogic structure of
friendship, wrath and hope in this partnership. In the partnership, dialogue is
essential for the well being and ongoing transformation of each of the partners. As Brueggemann says, the world needs this dialogue. “It is not too much to conclude that the future of the world depends upon the continued performance of this dialogue that resolvedly refuses closure and buoyantly offers newness.”
God, as partner with us, has instilled in each of our hearts and beings a desire for compassion and lovingkindness. God is there, right now. We don’t have to complete this degree or that project; we don’t have to be fully recovered from this pain or that addiction to touch that divine desire already present in us. God is there, right now.