How do you think about, and relate to, God?

Clare Condon SGS

Clare Condon SGS

For the Christian believer, prayer is much more than the convenient or the desperate calling out to some supreme being for help in tragic times, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS*

Over the past couple of months, the Sydney community, as well as the people of Paris and Japan, have faced tragic deaths. People were aghast at the horror and senseless nature of these massacres. During this period I often heard community leaders and others express the sentiment: “my prayers and thoughts are with you” to grieving families, friends and fellow citizens.

Following the tragic death of Phillip Hughes late last year in a simple accident on the cricket field, team mates also offered prayers in their grief and looked to the skies for some form of consolation, expressing a belief that their companion was still with them on the field, but in some new and mysterious way.

I have been pondering: Who have they been praying to? What image of God or eternal being is addressed in these heavens beyond us? What expectations are placed on this God of mystery? Or are these words for many people simply that – words? – like, this is what is expected of me; in a time of grief I do not know how else to respond.

I noted that Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others with stated beliefs in a God or eternal life offered supportive prayers. But I also noted that atheists, agnostics, and avowed secularists were doing the same.

It seems that God is sometimes understood as a kind of invisible crutch, an interventionist God who is there waiting to be called into action when life’s difficulties assail us; God is there at my command. In other words, I am in control and God needs to respond.

This is an unsustainable image of any God, because this God is placed under my control and is answerable to each one of us individually. God only exists at my behest. This, in fact, is a projection or a mind game; it is not an acknowledgement of a being greater than myself.

Such an image of God raises all sorts of questions about prayer and the reality of our human condition. It raises the question of whether there is the possibility of a personal relationship between God and each human person.

For the Christian believer, prayer is much more than the convenient or the desperate calling out to some supreme being for help in tragic times. Prayer is a deep relationship with the Risen Person of Jesus Christ. Prayer is there in season and out of season. It involves, above all else, worship and love of a God who, in Jesus, knows the highs and lows of our humanity. It is a spiritual experience, a contemplative experience that requires silence and stillness, a presence to the One who is beyond our limitations.

Following the tragic siege in Sydney, people came in silence with candles and flowers. It seemed this was an awakening to something deep within us, to a spiritual dimension that can often get clouded.

It is a difficult and challenging call for those of us who live in a comfortable Western secular society to comprehend a loving personal God, as described in the Christian Scriptures. Most of the time, we are self-sufficient, our daily needs are met. We are successful in this world of business, sport, politics and general day-to-day life. There is more than enough food on the table, a roof over our head, and material goods aplenty. As each new technological discovery is marketed, we Australians are often the first in the world to purchase. Often there is no place for the unexpected, the tragic, or the mysterious intervention.

But when these events do happen, we are flummoxed, unable to understand or explain; we are left adrift with only our humanity to hold onto. And so we offer our prayers, whatever that might mean.

In this troubled world, at times we are bereft of answers. It is in these dark moments of not knowing that we are drawn into a deeper place of mysterious questioning and searching for new meanings. We turn to a God, an eternal being beyond our limited world horizons and we cry out in prayer. Perhaps this is what we are seeking when we hear the words: “my prayers and thoughts are with you”.

We come to realise our own vulnerability, that we are not self-sufficient, and that our position and our possessions do not define us. We discover our own need for a God of love and mercy; a God who is not under our individual control and limited by our own short-sighted images, but a God who is expansive and who leads us deeply into the mystery of the other and the beyond.

Those of us who profess a Christian faith in the coming days will begin the liturgical time of Lent. This is a time for us to reflect on our faith; a time to pray for those who are suffering from tragedy and discord; a time to commit further to working towards a more just and compassionate society.

* Sister Clare Condon is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St Benedict.

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The Good Oil, February 17, 2015. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

5 Responses to “How do you think about, and relate to, God?”

  1. Pat Hearity says:

    Clare, I have done degrees, courses,written endless papers, built up a library of books all in search of statements about Mystery. When my life experience opened me to my own vulnerability, as you described, I realised all I had were questions about that Mystery. Amazingly stepping into that space of : ‘ well I really don’t know but I trust ‘ allowed me to be grasped by God. The seeking , relating goes on …an air of expectation even in painful times. Thank you .

  2. Marie Casamento says:

    I returned to Melbourne many many years ago and travelling one Saturday on the train was struck by the display of football colours etc. I like you was curious about the cricketers gazing towards the sky after Phillip Hughes death and the placing the cricket bat and hat outside homes as a mark of respect. Innate within each of us there appears to be this desire to ritualise and mark such events with prayer, with respect, with a movement towards ‘something’ greater than ourselves. Thank you Clare for your ability to enable us to be curious and above all reflective. Marie Casamento

  3. Mary Viney says:

    Hello Clare
    I liked the reflection you gave on the Image of God that I and others are seeing. One thing is sure God is not at our command, but scripture tells us to ASK? How God responds to me as someone who is aware that I am created in the Image of God. A Y3 ADH boy in catechesis pronounced with 9 year old wisdom that ‘God must be in our Soul because He doesn’t die and our soul doesn’t die.’ Interesting imagery for early conceptions! What about people we know who seem to ignore God and His trappings, church, prayer as we experience today. They have lots of friends, drink and laugh, socialise almost constantly. They don’t seem to be doing any harm to anyone, except ignoring other generations if they don’t have children. Intergenerational love and respect is rare. How does this self-absorbtion relate to God? I look at it rather the way Gina Hancock, in the TV series, looked at her four children laughing and drinking champagne after their grandfather’s funeral. She decided they would earn their keep from then on. Perhaps she has saved them from complete decadence despite that family relationships have split and converged and fumed against her. So many wealthy mother’s and father’s have spoiled their children and ruined their lives. The ‘work ethic’ is Gina’s focus, is there anything of God as well among our vast country?
    How can I find a way to use this time of health recovery to gain a clearer Image of God, already in me and reflect it as the light I am meant to be? I am waiting for Pope Francis’ reflections for Lent to arrive and maybe he can guide me to this purpose if its God’s will.

  4. Virginia Ryan says:

    Thank you Clare for reminding me that I’m not self-suffcient and it’s in and through my vulnerabiliy that I encounter God. I love your comment about God being there in the highs and lows of my life; in season and out of season. It’s a real blessing for me to remember that God is far beyond my limited human control and I need to let go and let God be God.
    Thank you, Virginia

  5. Graeme Duro says:

    Hello Clare, I’m in the USA on a few months sabbatical and found your article thought provoking and most helpful. This is the first time in ages I feel I have the opportunity to ponder the question of my Image of God with such leisure. Your reflections make so much sense. Many thanks,
    Graeme

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