One of the most profound spiritual experiences I ever had was during a guided meditation led by Andrew Harvey. I was taking a class from him on my way to earning a doctorate, and the instruction he gave us was quite simple but changed completely my orientation to Spirit.
Basically, we went on an inner journey through a specific landscape, and then got to a place where we came face to face with our image of the Divine. Being asked the question, “What does the Divine look like to you?” threw me into complete confusion. I had a whole Rolodex of images of God/dess, beginning with the Christian God of my youth, and extending into all the Deities I had encountered and worked with over many years. I literally imagined rifling through the card file, trying on each image in succession. Brigid? No. Jesus? No. Lugh? No. Yemaya? No. Snowy-bearded God guy? No.
This was getting interesting. None of the faces I knew of deity fit when I tried to imagine that fire at the center of my heart, which felt like my connection to Spirit. So what was it, that connection? What was I connecting to? When I focused on the sensation, gradually a wholly unexpected image drifted to the surface of my mind. It was a golden, shining being, androgynous, more light than substance, and shifting so that I could see all those other images in it, but none could encompass it. Compared to this Presence, my whole Rolodex was like a closet of used clothing.
Somehow I had managed to reach forty years of age while avidly studying, learning, and teaching others about spirituality, without being asked or asking myself that simple question. How was that possible? What other tremendous insights was I overlooking, by not taking the time to ask seemingly obvious questions? I had no explanation for this bizarre oversight in my spiritual education, but that experience taught me the importance of starting at the core and proceeding outward, rather than beginning on the outside with a story or image and bringing it in.
I have had the pleasure recently of lingering with a book that asks these seemingly obvious questions in a probing yet open-handed way. Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine, by Val Webb, is a very readable, thoughtful consideration of why and how we name our experience of Spirit. Webb, a theologian, scientist, and Religious Studies lecturer in Australia, digs deep into Sufi, Buddhist, Hindu, Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Aboriginal, and Christian texts and images to illustrate some of the ways humans have answered those big questions over time.
Webb’s writing style is very clear and straightforward. She weaves together history, scripture, philosophy, and theology in a way that does not favor the academic or theÂ poetic, but rather draws both to the table. I recommend this book highly to anyone who would like to delve more deeply into their own conceptions of Spirit, and those like me who have always been curious about the genesis of certain religious ideas and assumptions, but were looking for the right book on the subject to come along. This is the book.