Friday, January 9, 2009

We can't get closer to God

Anybody who has at some point encountered the reality of God being present and experienced the transformation that ensued will be left with a deep-seated desire to return to this place where this transformative event occurred. This place we desire to return to has nothing to do with the geographical location, but everything to do with the experience of the Reality we encountered. These moments can never be fully be captured with words and anytime we attempt to explain them to others the explanation ends up falling short and degrading the happening that took place. Maybe these moments are not meant to be figured out and reduced to concepts because they transpire in a place that is beyond the conceptual realm. Even if in the aftermath of these occurrences we are unable to articulate what happened...we know that it was God and we know that we've been changed.

Those who have experienced "The Real" (the words of Thomas Merton) and have been changed, naturally want to return to this place again and again. Often times they might even use the phrase "I want to get closer to God". What we mean when we say this (I assume) is that we want to experience the connection with God that was present in those wondrous moments. If when we use the phrase "getting closer to God" it functions as a metaphor that helps suggest the intimate encounter we long for with God then I believe that it is helpful and revealing. But the problem I see with this phrase is that when it is taken too literally and not seen metaphorically it creates this idea that getting back to this place where we are "closer to God" requires some kind of a striving on our part that subsequently moves us closer to God as if their is some kind of a spatial distance that exists between God and us in the first place. The perpetuation of this misconception can leave us struggling to "get close to God"  failing miserably and as a result not only leave us feeling disconnected from Him but frustrated at our futile attempts to draw near to Him, leaving us with a dryness in our spiritual lives. 

The mystery of God's presence not  only permeates all of reality (check previous post), this same Presence is actually living, breathing, active and dwelling within the lives of those who have entered into this life changing relationship with Him. This spatial distance between us and God that is actually a part of  so many of our views of the nature of our relationship, (albeit, unknown to most of us) is actually non-existent. How can one get closer to a God whose life is dwelling within them via His Spirit? In light of this, we discover that it is not that we get closer to God, it is that in these places where we experience this transformative encounter, we are simply awake to the reality and presence of the loving God who was already there. We do not need to learn how to get closer to God; we need to learn how to become awake to the living God who is already here. 

There is effort involved in this process of learning to become awake, but it is not the kind of effort involved in the grasping, striving, laboring, grinding and working that is so prominent in the culture we are a part of today that bows down to the altar of materialism, consumerism and shallowness. What we need to do is cultivate mindfulness, develop awareness, enhance our sensitivity, become more conscious of, and be more alive to the presence and reality of God. In contrast to the portrait I just painted of the expressions of the kind effort that is the norm for the culture we are a part of today, the effort involved in the activities that help one become more awake to God is expressed in silence, solitude, stillness, reflection, patience and waiting. All of these activities can be encapsulated by and find their unity in what is known as a contemplative stance. In this posture of contemplation we see out of the wider landscape of our being, where we discover our true selves and our true God. In relationship to this process of learning to become awake, their is an illuminating conversation I want to end with that took place between a zen master and his disciple. 

Disciple: "Is there anything that I can do to make myself enlightened?"

Zen master: "As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning"

Disciple: "Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?"

Zen master: "To make you sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise"


  1. I wish I could discuss this more in detail now. It's quite the coincidence that last night I fell asleep reading a book called A History of God, by Karen Armstrong. The part I was reading involved God according to the mystics.

    I was amazed to read about the experiences of mystics from Islam, Christianity, and Judaism along with the Eastern religions and their experiences, some of them similar.

    In my own life, only on select occassions have I felt this "nearness" to God. Maybe my search for an objective set of religious truths and doctrine along with a desire for all of this to make complete rational sense has been an inhibition.

    One of the mystics from Islam, Al-Ghazzali, had tried learning about the four types of his faith trying to understand "what all things really are in themselves." According to him, "I have poked every recess, I have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss. I have scrutinized the creed of every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community. All this I have done that I might distinguish between true and false, between sound tradition and heretical innovation."

    Here is what the book I'm reading had to say about this (p. 187):: No matter how exhuastive his research, absolute certainty eledued him....Without abandoing his discovered that the mystical disciplines yielded a direct but intuitive sense of something that could be called "God."

    The idea of silence, contemplation, and solitude that you described is one that I have not regularly practiced. However, it seems that people of all faiths have developed a sense of the Supernatural by doing so.

    I enjoyed reading your reflections on this. Great job.

  2. Being quiet and still is the challenge in our lives today. So many distractions to take our focus away. We can pray at anytime, but to become awake and participate fully in our relationship with God we must be quiet and listen. He is always waiting for us. That's amazing!

  3. I disagree only because when I am quiet and still my mind takes over and it becomes VERY complicated. It is not something I care to work on as I assume that The Lord made me this way and I love this about me (that my mind is constantly moving) In my own experiences God has talked to me when I am screaming and yelling or listening to a FANTASTIC song or reading a great story/blog There have been FIVE moments for me like this and aside from my wedding have filled me with more joy than anything. He IS waiting... but everyones body is receptive to him at different times... regardless it is what you do with that feeling/message...PEACE!

  4. PS. I am only disagreeing with the SILENCE part. He listens and talks me at my loudest =)

  5. Melanie, thanks for the taking the time to respond. I could not agree more about people being receptive to God at different times and ultimately the point of hearing from God being how we respond. Referring to our psychological makeup and assumming that "the Lord made me this way" might not be doing justice to the reality of the shaping that takes place in the developmental process. We have al been informed, influenced and shaped by various factors (bio-psycho-social...etc.) that were a part of the environment we grew up in. I totally agree with the complicated nature of our minds and often the overwhelming experience we have when we sit in silence and are left to grapple with the reality of our selves. But is a part of growth not allowing our selves to confront what is really taking place within us? Do we not want to move from a complicated state that leaves us unable to live in the silence of of ourselves to a place where we are gaining clarity about the complexity of our our situation, moving us towards a deeper understanding and peace? Thoughts?

  6. Rats! I just barely got this feedback lol... I'll get back to you lol