What do you see when you think about God?
When I was six years old, my class was given a set of mismatched pencils and coloured paper and asked to think about how we saw God.
‘Draw it’, our teacher had said, with a gentle and encouraging smile. ‘There are no wrong answers.’
The result was a vast collection of drawings of men dressed in white, sitting on clouds with shoulder-length brown hair and beards, often with a halo and wings.
I was painfully awful at art, but ever the odd one out I had drawn a nature scene. On my paper, in childish, joyful scrawl, was a line of lime-green trees, accompanied by the blue scribble of a river beside them. The sun had sunglasses on (of course) in its perch from the corner of the page, and W-shaped birds were scattered across a skyline I grew too impatient to fully colour.
My teacher couldn’t tell me I was wrong, for it was a six-year-old’s interpretation of a timeless, omnipotent being. As she pinned it up on the walls, nestled between images of stick men with halos, I grinned.
When I was 12 years old, my class was asked how we saw God.
We sat, eyebrows furrowed, staring at blank paper. The question hung heavy over our heads. No longer were my peers satisfied with the image of white man sitting upon clouds. But what image did we see?
Putting pen to paper was hard. The prospect of being called a ‘heretic’ made us fearful. Four Hail Marys to try to redeem oneself, then a set of Our Fathers to numb the pain.
Two weeks ago, I was asked how I saw God. I stopped. A photo came to mind, one I had taken the previous week, on a Thursday evening, with a group of friends, revelling in the space between adolescent naivety and independence, skin awash with both sand and the first taste of moonlight.
Music was playing, and from my perch a few metres away, I could see my friends dancing, eyes tipped to the sky, grinning, with arms stretched in freedom. The camerawork was shaky due to my rushed attempt to make the moment in time infinite, but that did not matter. It was as clear as day.
This is his Grace. This is God.
God is not an old man in white watching spiritlessly from a cloud high above, otherworldly hands stirring a lukewarm coffee as he checks his watch and prays to… well, himself, for the end of the workday.
Instead, in some kind of white-hot, eyes-clamped-shut crash, it seems a seraphic silhouette follows closely behind us in our existence on this planet. Or, instead, maybe, God follows with footsteps lilac soft, at the trail end of a litany of I love yous, sneaking into domestic life in the gentle palm of a child with pebbles and eyes filled with wonder.
I do not know when or how the transcendent became so intimate; what I do know however, is that, somehow, God now sits in a liminal space – not ‘here’ and not ‘us’, and yet very ‘here’ and very much ‘us’.
It feels different now. I hear someone call God ‘Sky Dad,’ and I laugh with them. I can’t help but feel, however, as though that horizon has been smudged by some unrecognisable hand, blurring the lines between sky and land into sea spray and shaky photos of loved ones. God is still here, of course. It just feels different now.
Now, God sits in the cabinet at your best friend’s house where you don’t have to ask to know where the glasses are. Or, in the orange the two of you split, handing them the bigger half out of habit, brushing grass-stained knees like children again. Pearlescent and syrupy sweet, God now sits, cross-legged and smiling, in the tender silence the two of you feel no need to fill.
When I ask people how they see God, I see them cycle through the images. The cogs in their brains begin to whirl: a man on a cloud; a sunset on the beach; the kids playing with the dog on a Sunday morning; the kind, elderly woman in the back pew at Mass. A mirror. Everything at once, in all its technicolour glory. Nothing at all.
Then, they ask how I see God. And as I look around, I smile.
Zara Hatton is a Year 11 student at Holy Spirit College, Bellambi, NSW and is one of the guest editors of the Spring 2021 edition.