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"