Trying to See God

I climbed the mimosa tree in my backyard looking for God. My ten-year-old mind had latched on to the words I heard in church, "then we shall see God." It was the only part of the sermon that got my attention but it made a powerful impression, and I spent the rest of the church service looking around for God to make an appearance. As we left church and shook the minister’s hand, I wanted to ask him when can I see God and if he’s not here, where is he, but I couldn’t quite work up the courage. (God was definitely a "he" for us, back then.)

In my church community I often heard people talk of walking with the Savior, or talking to Jesus and that Jesus was the Son of God. The pictures of Jesus in the Bible and my Sunday school books gave me the image of a tall, thin white man with long, brown hair knocking on a door. This convinced me that maybe God sent Jesus around to do the visiting and he just might show up at our house one day. Then we’d be able to go for a walk and I could ask him all the questions I had. I thought of some really good ones.

Like if you love all the little children, red and yellow, black and white, why are some of them starving? And how is my mother making me eat things I don’t like going to keep them from starving? Why is there a polio epidemic making so many children crippled and making everybody afraid to go swimming?

When he didn’t come to the house that day or the next week, I decided that he must still be in heaven and maybe if I just got up high enough in the mimosa tree, I’d spot him. I tried this several times and even took Daddy’s field glasses, but still no luck. Then it occurred to me that maybe I just wasn’t up high enough and that when we took our Sunday afternoon drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway, I’d be able to see him from one of the overlooks.

After several weeks of failure with this plan, I finally told my father about all the places I’d been looking for God and asked him where I needed to go. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in late spring and we were standing at an overlook along the Parkway. He didn’t answer directly, but just said, "Tell me what you see." I described the blue line of mountains in the distance, the lake near a farm in the valley, and the tree-covered slope leading to it from where we stood. He said, "God is all these things and is more than anything we can see or know. God’s Spirit is in everything created—plants, animals, and people. We can see God’s face in everyone we meet because we are all made in the image and likeness of God." My father could see the doubt on my face as certain people came to mind that I didn’t think could possibly be like God at all. And he added, "Being made in God’s image, doesn’t mean we always act like we should, and what we might call ugly in looks is still beautiful in God’s eyes."

This was not the answer I wanted, not even close. The Sunday School picture of Jesus knocking on the door was clear in my mind. "What about the pictures of Jesus? Do the people who draw pictures of Jesus get to see him?" I asked. He laughed and said, "We all have to find our own way to picture God and Jesus, and that is just those people’s way."

I still climb trees and hike up mountains looking for God and there is still a piece of that little girl in me hoping I’ll meet a kind, gentle man in long white robes who looks like that picture. I have also learned the wisdom of my father’s words and can feel the living spirit in the trees and on the mountain path. And I see the face of God every day in all the people I meet when I don’t let my own narrow images, fears, and prejudices about that face get in the way.

Mary Ann Downey

Mary Ann Downey is a member of Atlanta (Ga.) Meeting and of the Board of Trustees of Friends Journal. She is director of Decision Bridges, which promotes consensus decision making.