In worship this week, we listened to and meditated on Psalm 27:4.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
The words, “to gaze on the beauty of the Lord,” caught my attention this morning. We are unable to visibly see God. In the Hebrew text, people were afraid to see God, face to face, thinking they would not survive such an encounter. The Israelites were even afraid to see the glow on Moses’ face after he spent time in God’s presence. So how do we gaze on God’s beauty? What does that look like?
The psalmist continued to share his desire to seek out God in the temple. Paul taught that we are the temple (1 Cor. 6:19). That God is inside of us. Furthermore, Paul shared in Colossians that all of creation is in Christ (Col. 1:16-17). Can you imagine the magnitude of this statement and all it implies? God is in us, each one of us, and all of creation, including us, is in Christ.
Bringing in this inclusive perspective of God and allowing it to define beauty actually, reframes the question I asked previously. How do we gaze upon the beauty of the Lord? Where do we see this beauty? Take a moment to look around, right where you are. What do you notice?
I notice an all familiar tree outside my window with birds flitting about from branch to branch. I see a man walk by, bundled against the coolness of a rainy Oregon day. I hear dogs barking in the distance and birds chirping close by. I remember a couple of conversations earlier this week, as friends of mine checked in with me and one another. Earlier this morning, I enjoyed a deep heart conversation shared with another dear friend.
All of these show the beauty of God. Some I see, hear, or experience with my physical senses and some I experience in my heart within relationship with people and in conversation. It is good to notice the beauty held within the ordinary and extraordinary interactions and experiences we all share.
Sometimes, it is pretty easy to notice and appreciate God’s beauty. What about those interactions that are difficult? How about with those I disagree with or who have hurt me or who are just different from me? Can I see beauty in those who are the “other?”
It seems beauty is most evident in the uncomfortable places of life. Pain, love, and beauty are each made richer as we experience the messiness of life lived together. True community is experienced in embracing the things that bring both uniformity, those things that are alike, and uniqueness, where we differ, to shape our world. We see the essence of these words played out in nature and in the people around us. Holding these seemingly distinct opposites together, open the way for beauty, as unity is held within diversity.
This seems like an idealistic notion that is beautiful but potentially impossible. Or is it? What part can I do, can we individually walk out with one another, in accepting and embracing the beauty in one another?
Maybe it is gazing at the beauty of the Lord in each and every person. Recognizing the Imago Dei, image of God, in each one of us. If God is in each person as we see in Genesis 1:26-27 and all creation is in Christ - then God’s beauty is seen in all people. Even in those, I disagree with. So, what makes this so difficult?
It seems that believing myself as loved is key to being able to be open to God and those who are different from me. I’ve come to realize that love, true love, is being believed in, seen, heard, and known. If beauty is seen and experienced in the “other,” then how do I become open to it? Maybe, as I know more of myself being believed in, seen, heard, and known, I will stop fighting for that to happen within my own control and efforts. As the fighting within myself slows, I will be able to see and experience the beauty of God in all the “others” around me. This brings less divisiveness and more grace for myself, God, and those I encounter.
This is hard because we all desire to be accepted and loved yet, fearful of rejection or being seen as less than. This fear of being considered “less than” is actually a shame label we accept for ourselves. Shame causes us to want to hide. We tend to do whatever helps us to feel safe and protected, while still believing this false label. I’ve noticed, both for myself and those I work with, that who we believe God to be and who we believe ourselves to be, matter. We think we are protecting ourselves from pain and rejection but in actuality, we are holding love from God and others at a distance.
I’ve done this. I’ve lived this way. We, probably, all have. There is another way to live, knowing we are deeply and intimately loved by our Creator God. This God believes in us, sees us, hears us, and knows us deeply, more deeply and completely than we know ourselves. This is love and an invitation to live out of this love for ourselves, God, and others.
Our beliefs matter. Will we allow God to readjust the lens we use to see ourselves, God, and those around us? Will we allow God to walk alongside us with the gentleness that defines love while we learn to surrender to our own belovedness? Will we allow God’s definition of love to impact how we see others?
Lord, help us notice your beauty in us, in you, and in those we encounter…
Who is God? How do we define God? How do we define ourselves or the world in relation to God? Each of us has a theology, a belief about God’s existence, character, and view of humankind. Each and every one of us.
Our view of God matters. It seems to shape everything we do. It is the basis for how we relate to people, God, and even ourselves. If we view God as harsh, we can tend to either reject God or treat others and ourselves harshly. The same goes for other character traits we assign to God. Doctrine, life experiences, family of origin, all shape our understanding. What do you hold true about God? How does that shape the way you treat yourself and interact with those around you?
Usually, an experience of great pain, loss, or love bring us to a place to recognize what we believe. Some of it is probably beneath our awareness. It can feel like shifting sand beneath our feet. This is where our beliefs about God, our theology, and our experience of God, do not match up. We can notice it in many contexts; often, within relationships, emotions, reactions, even our reluctance to engage.
Recognizing this dissonance offers an invitation for God to expand our view. A picture that has been helpful for me is a box representing our view of God. We all have this theological box and it seems God enters into our box and gently expands it. God is bigger than we can fully comprehend and seems to gently bring us to a deeper understanding. This expansion may be gentle but sometimes can be quite painful; yet, offers a bigger view of God.
It takes a quietness in our own minds to notice these places of dissonance. Learning to be quiet enough to notice this discomfort in our lives, takes practice. For me, it has been through quieting my own mind through contemplative prayer. This has opened my ability to pay attention and notice. It doesn’t seem to be during my prayer as much as it is in the rest of my life.
Through the last few years, I have worked through a place of deep loss in my life. I discovered I believed that everything, both good and bad, came directly from God. This view of God made it difficult to fully trust God.
My pattern was striving forward and making my own way in the world. I didn’t understand how to rest in God. As I worked and pushed through life, I protected myself from anything that could come at me with self-imposed barriers. I worked hard to provide for myself, falsely thinking I could protect myself from tragedy or heartache. These barriers pushed out God’s love as well as the love of those around me. Even in this perceived place of self-protection, the sand shifted and I felt like I lost all I had built up for myself.
Imagine believing in a God who blesses us with good things and punishes us with bad things, dependent on our behavior or lessons to be learned. This perception of God brings us to having to earn love and safety. I had previously believed God loved me. Yet, I found it didn’t seem to impact my life or heart in tangible ways. This was something I knew to be true, rationally, but I hadn’t allowed myself to experience it as reality. So, I remained unchanged and kept the world divided into those who were “good” and those who were “bad.”
In this experience of loss, I couldn’t hold this view any longer. You see, I didn’t do anything so wrong, as to deserve what happened. We tend to think in a cause and effect understanding. If something bad happens, we feel the need to define it by behavior. I suppose that it makes us feel like we have a bit of control over things. This loss didn’t make sense in my old way of thinking. So who is God? What is love? How does any of this make sense?
These are good questions and offered the space for my journey of transformation during this time. I came to realize I was unable to provide or more importantly, to protect myself. The shifting sand experience, which brought my own efforts to a halt, revealed to me a God whose depth of love reached down to embrace my very existence, the core of who I am.
As I have learned to recognize the dissonance in my own heart and bring those discoveries for God’s view through contemplative prayer practices, God has met me with gentleness and grace. This gentleness and grace often takes my breath away because it seems to be beyond my own expectations. Learning to treat myself with the same gentleness and grace, as counter-cultural as that is, has been a gift and a process.
The gift was not the shifting sand situation. The gift was being invited to experience a loving God through noticing the dissonance. Painful things do happen in our lives and how we define those is shaped by the lens we use for our image of God. Embracing my pain and realizing my inability to control the things around me, offered a place to discover a God I had never really experientially known deeply.
It can feel very disloyal to leave the god we created. The gift is discovering the God who created us. Along the journey, we begin to realize this God, we are coming to know, has actually been with us the whole time. (1)
This is the gift of transformation, learning more about ourselves and God. As we become more aware of who we are and more aware of who God is, we grow more deeply in both. We can let go of our desire for control and our barriers of self-protection, knowing we are loved and belong. It is a beautiful gift and the journey of transformation is lifelong, as we begin to rest in God and to surrender to our own belovedness.
(1) Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan, and Juanita Ryan, Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 115-122.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!