I mentioned in a post last week that I recently attended a program given by Dr. Ana-Maria Rizzuto on Understanding Religious and Spiritual Issues During Psychoanalytic Psychoterapy. I was sufficiently engaged by her talk that I’ve read several articles or book chapters written by her over the last week.
We all have representations (the term Rizzuto uses rather than “images”) of God. Unable to have a direct sensory experience of God, we resort to analogic representations. Children, needing to find some way to give shape to God when they are first told about him, form their first representation of God based on their experience with their parents. Over time, the adolescent disengages with parental representations. Rizzuto writes that “a normal crisis of late adolescence often involves a comparable religious crisis. From that moment on, ever until death, each new major emotional encounter with people contributes to modifications of God representations. Often they are silent and unnoticed; otehr times they appear as profound crises calling for a reorganization of the person’s religious stance.”
Understanding this process seems to me useful for two reasons. First, it reminds us that our images or representations of God are precisely that – analogic representations that help us give words and shape to the God who ultimately is mystery, who we can not directly experience with our senses. I think people sometimes forget that the image is image and not definition of God. (I’m thinking, for example, of people who were offended by the author of The Shack portraying God “the Father” as a motherly black woman.) Second, understanding the process helps us understand that it is completely natural that our images or representation of God change over time and there is nothing wrong with the fact that they do.