The God of Our Experience

Oh Mystery, you are alive, I feel you all around.
You are the fire in my heart, you are the holy sound.
You are all of life, it is to you that I sing.
Grant that I may feel you, always, in everything.
– Jeremy Geffen
Before experiencing God you thought you could talk about God;
when you begin to experience God you realize that
what you are experiencing you cannot put into words.
– St. Augustine

One of the foundational spiritual questions addressed within this blog is: Who Is God? I was well into my adulthood when I began to realize and examine the disconnect between the God of my experience and the God of my religion.

As you begin to read this post, I invite you first to spend a few moments participating in the following reflective exercise:

1. Pause quietly and try to recall the first time in your life you experienced a sense of the sacred (however you define that for yourself).
2. What elements were present in this experience? (e.g., Where were you? What were you doing? Who else was present?).
3. What words or images come to mind to help articulate that experience?
4. What do these words or images express about your relationship to Earth and to others in the community of life?

The image of the God of my experience is rooted in an event which occurred when I was about seven years old. I have written in detail about that “mystical” or “unitive” experience in another post in the Awareness step of My Journey. Here, I only want to say that from that experience onward it seems as though I have carried in my being an experiential understanding of the Divine as an all-encompassing, all-loving presence that holds within its embrace the totality of my being and all else that exists. In relationship to this embrace, there is a knowing of complete, unconditional love.

In addition, probably in connection with my early, expansive experience, I  always have felt my  strongest connection to the Divine in natural settings. It seems I come closest pat by ocean1to the awareness of the Presence I experienced so intimately as a child while I am in the outdoors – watching a sunset, camping in the woods, hiking along mountain ridges, or walking along the beach. Somehow the outward expanse of Nature meets the inward expanse of my being most in those outdoor moments.

Perhaps it is because of this connection to nature that I experienced such openness to the new science and its unfolding story of our evolving Universe as part of my own spiritual growth process in recent years.  For me, the notion that I am the product of some 13.7 billion years of physical and psychic evolution on the part of our Universe increasingly has become the viewpoint from which I approach my spirituality and my life.

As a young adult, I began to read the writings of mystics within the Christian and other traditions. I recognized that the God who appears in mystical spirituality was and is the God of my experience.

One of my favorite depictions of the Divine comes from the 12th Century abbess, Hildegard of Bingen, who reported having a vision in which the Spirit said to her:

“I am the supreme fire; not deadly, but rather, enkindling every spark of life…I ignite the beauty of the plains, I sparkle the waters, I burn in the sun and the moon and the stars…I am the breeze that nurtures all things green…I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life…I am the yearning for good” (Uhlein, 1983, pp. 25,30,31).

While I delight in the descriptions in this quote of the pervasiveness of God in our Universe, most important to me is the description of God as “the yearning for good.”  It reminds me of Thomas Merton’s description of the “True Self,” which I first read about in James Finley’s book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhwere.  Finley (1978) says: “Merton’s message is that we are one with God.”  Based on this incredible intimacy with God, Merton describes the True Self as the self “in God as opposed to the false self of egocentric desires” (p. 18).

This was my first introduction to the “dual nature” of our humanity: the part of ourselves that is always “yearning for good,” and the part of ourselves that yearns to please our “egocentric desires.”  It also was my first confirmation of the existence of a God who dwells within us, rather than a God who dwells apart from us and is reached only through intermediaries who require allegiance to certain rules, regulations, and dogmas in order for one to have any hope of ever approaching goodness and the Divine.

As a result of reading Merton’s thought, my life in God became my responsibility.  How close I felt to God, or how well I expressed the “yearning for good” in my behaviors was about how well I came to know myself, my own “egocentric desires,” and what made me strong in one or the other.

Reading Merton also helped me to recognize that I would need help in this endeavor to always live in touch with and giving expression to the God within me from people who knew more about it than I did.  That was the beginning of the search for and commitment to “my people”: those who could support, affirm, and challenge me on this journey of growth in self knowledge and self regulation. That was 25 years ago, and the main thing I have learned in that time is that the struggle is ongoing. It begins again with each new day.

Uhlein, G. (1983). Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen. Sante Fe, NM: Bear & Company. pp. 25,30,31.

Finley, J. (1978). Merton’s palace of nowhere: A search for God through awareness of the true self. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

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