What image does that conjure up for you? Beardy guy in white robe? Ball of light glowing in space? Curvy lady made of clay? Some other pre-existing iconography we’ve come to associate with an omniscient, omnipotent being that birthed/created all existence?
My husband’s image of God is beardy guy. He thinks mine is beardy woman because #girlgods.
Now I didn’t ask whether you believe in God. That’s your deal. I asked what image you have in your head of God. This post is about connotations and imagery. Not theology. But I will say it’s easier to pick a visualisation of God if you actually follow a faith. There will likely be a clear image that represents God such as Jesus on the cross or the vast pantheon of Hindu Gods. If you don’t follow a faith maybe it’s beardy guy or maybe something else… like that bleepy bloopy galaxy thing in Futurama. Or something more Lovecraftian.
The point that I didn’t make yet is that not all faiths have that pre-existing image of the Almighty. Islam doesn’t. And I am Muslim (Hi!). When I see those coexist logos, Islam is usually represented with a crescent and star. And that’s not incorrect… it’s on the flags of quite a few Muslim countries. But I would say the symbolic representation of God in Islam is more this:
For those not in the know, that’s Arabic for Allah. Allah means The One. The One is God. Allah=God. Drawings or imagery of God is a no-no in Islam due to idolatry being a blasphemy. So I only ever had this fancy calligraphy. This is what’s likely on the walls in a Muslim household, not the crescent and star. But replacing an image of God with writing never scratched my itch for an image when I was little.
My itch for an image when I was little.
Now if you were raised with religion and are a happy but serious religious person, I apologise for my following blasphemy. If you were raised with religion but are no longer very religious and are unhappy about it all, I apologise for the following positivity. If you are neither, I apologise for this little interlude.
So I don’t remember when exactly my parents told me about God but I do remember various conversations on the matter that blew my tiny child mind. God as a concept – an invisible omniscient Being responsible for making reality, who totally knew who I was, what I felt and loved me – was bonkers to me. I remember asking how God could see me if I was indoors and I don’t remember the exact answer but I went away thinking that God was on the walls. Like a thin invisible coating of All-Knowing, All-Seeing Divinity on the actual walls. And I spent a few weeks of my life staring at walls willing myself to see God. Or looking at the walls suspiciously when I was about to do something naughty, like pick my nose. I once even poked the Wall God and literally jumped back waiting for something to happen.
I just could not get it. God couldn’t possibly see me without being near me. So how was this supposed to work? How could He see all people at the same time? Were there copies? How did He process it all?
Unless He was… psychic? Maybe He could see the world in His head. Maybe He was in one place and the world played in His mind.
Moving Away from Wall God.
Wall God just didn’t work as a concept. And I needed God to be a tangible thing in my tiny child mind. A child needs a face to bond with and yeah maybe it’s Islamically awkward to think that but it’s how I felt as a child. I wonder if I’m the only one…
So around this time I had another conversation with my parents and also some fellow children. The questions I posed were more about where God was in His down time and what His house looked like. This is when I learned of The Throne. And let me tell you.. my imagination was on fire. I also learned that God was in Heaven waiting for us. So Throne + God is psychic + Heaven. This was something I could work with.
But the thing about children is that… well they’re kinda dumb. People talk a lot about children being imaginative… but they’re more re-imaginative. They take material from the real world and combine it with their limited understanding of things and then tell a story that functions as a mental processing of this weird wacky world.
Case in point: how many times did you mishear the lines from movies you watched in your childhood? And even though what you thought you heard was wrong, you kinda just went with it and that became your reality. Like dialogue from old Disney films? Like how you didn’t know that “curtsey” was a word so when Scar said, “ooh I shall practice my curtsey” when he was sassing Mufasa you heard “ooh I shall practice my cursing” and thought he was way more sassy as a result? From Lion King? You know what I mean.
Anyway my brain was processing all this info about God and reimagining it with the tangible little bits of the world around me. And so I imagined the cloudy heaven from Hercules and a thick grey stone throne. I dunno why the throne wasn’t more gilded. And then I imagined God as a playing card.
He was the King card.
I don’t know why this happened the way it happened.
Why this Happened the Way it Happened.
I used to play a lot with playing cards as a childling and I always thought the King one looked cool. He had a sword going through his head and there were two of him so you could hold the card either way up. He was mysterious. And I didn’t know any card games so instead of using the cards as cards, I spent more time bonding with the Queen and King and Jack and making up stories about their lives. Like, the King and Queen of Hearts would host the King and Queen of Diamonds and would teach the latter the value of love (hearts) over physical wealth (diamonds). But the Jacks would conspire against the King because they wanted to be King and… you know it’s not important. The point is that God was a playing card.
And he fit on the throne by folding.
And whenever I prayed that’s what I visualised in my mind. That was God and He was cool. One day, quite recently, I remember praying and this visual wasn’t there at all. God has become feels rather than an image. And maybe that’s because I have grown up but I miss my childhood Playing Card God.
I’m sure God has been watching me wrangling the concept of His existence with amusement. Because I imagine if you’re the creator of everything and are waiting for humanity to learn to be good, you probably like watching humanity learn and wrangle things.
And that’s kind of my happiest memories of God and religion. Just wrangling with Him as a concept. He probably hasn’t changed but I have gone through many phases of wrangling. And my perception of God is very much tied to my perception of myself and I enjoy looking back on these phases learning more about myself.
So in a way I am sad that Playing Card God has left my mind. It wasn’t His fault, it’s just who I was then and who I needed God to be.
Anyway, I promised I would try to post more and, in these times of Corona, I have become more introspective so here was some Divine introspection.
Now I am going to go try and make homemade ketchup because I’m too lazy to go shopping for ketchup but want to eat homemade burgers today.
If you’re more an email person, join my mailing list. I post weekly-ish. I promise I won’t spam you.
Or read some recent posts that I am quite proud of:
- My Sunday evening: doomscrolling, taking offense and yogaQuickie 2 min read about that dread you feel every Sunday evening.
- Was Valentine’s Day even relevant in the pandemic?Defending Valentine’s Day for 7 minutes straight. 7 mins of reading I mean.
- What school assignment still haunts you? Mine is the Tiger EssayGorgeous 10 min read about a formative childhood experience. With #siblinggoals
- What the fear of not accomplishing your dreams feels like.5 min read about things that hold us back from living a creative life. There’s a Venn diagram in it!
- I restarted yoga and now I’m better than everyone.8 min ramble about fitness goals, consistency and smugness and how none of it will last.