Something larger than we are flows within us, through us, around us. The connection is stronger, clearer, deeper, in some times and places than in others. In some times and places, there is a veritable YES! coursing through us in response to our life experience. It may be the birth of a child, or making love with your life’s true mate, or walking through a foggy morning in wet woods… An encounter with some form of goodness, beauty, and/or, truth will do it every time (and, the truth doesn’t have to be either good or beautiful—the awesome, destructive terror of an earthquake, or volcano, can work as well).
The shift from “here” to “there” can happen anywhere, any time, but not everywhere, all the time. While transcendent reality is never more than a perception shift away, some life experiences compel/enable us to make that shift more easily than others. The sense of holy presence—the encounter with numinous reality—is occasioned by experiences that bring us fully into the present moment, and focus us intently on this time, this place. James Joyce referred to this experience as “aesthetic arrest,” and Joseph Campbell talked about the event occasioning the experience as being “transparent to transcendence.”
The transcendent is concealed in, and revealed by, the imminent. Whatever awakens us, and enables us to be fully, deeply, alive, opening us to the wonder of the moment of our present experience, connects us with the divine. If we want to “find God,” we can do no better than by exposing ourselves to the goodness, truth and beauty of our life experience—or, as some have said, by giving ourselves an experience of beauty through art, music and nature.
Parker Palmer calls these places of encounter with more than words can say, “thin places,” where the invisible world shines through into the visible world of normal, apparent reality, and illumines those with eyes to see in a way they never forget. The knowledge of God, to the extent that the unknowable can be known, begins with the experience of God—and how can we live without experiencing God?
To experience God is to know God, but in a way that cannot be communicated. We cannot explain what we know, or say what we have experienced. Yet, the experience of God, of knowing God through direct, personal experience with transcendent reality, can lead to the alignment of our life with God, to living the life of God, so that, along with Jesus and Paul, we can say “The Father and I are one,” “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The God we experience as being “out there,” can become the source of life, and light, and peace, “in here” and, by the way we live, “out there.”
We need to spend less time talking about theology, debating the doctrines and studying the Bible, and more time placing ourselves in the path of experiences of numinous reality through art, music and nature. That is the surest path to knowing God, because the knowledge of God is hardly an exact science. Theologians like to speak with the voice of absolute authority, but we all feel our way along here. We say more than we can possibly know. We engage the Mystery, and then proceed to explain it—or, more likely, we never engage the Mystery, someone explains it to us, and tells us to believe what they say.
Someone catches a glimpse of the transcendent source of life, being and value, and draws up a chart of the organizational structure of the universe in outline form, including a time line for handy reference, and hands it out to be memorized, and recited to all people as the way of saving the world. A 3.5 second experience of holiness is good for a lifetime of logical extrapolation and rational deduction. Never mind that God is quickly lost in our explanations of God. The two are one in our mind, and we will be glad to tell you that it is so.
The first thing we can say about the Mystery is that it is impossible to say anything of substance about the Mystery. The second thing we can say is that whatever we say has to respect and maintain the mysteriousness of the Mystery. We don’t know anything of it beyond our experience of it. How it is structured, whether it has preferences, if it has a plan, and what it does on its days off, we don’t know. Beyond the experience itself, we make it all up.
If we are going to make it all up, and it would be helpful to do so from as broad a base as possible. It would be helpful to acknowledge that we have no business making it all up on our own, alone, cut off from all the others who have made, and are making, it all up. No one has the last word. One person’s guess is as good as another’s. That being the case, lay all the words, and all the guesses, out on the table, and get as large a picture as possible regarding who we all think, and have thought, God is. Listen to the traditions, and let each person make up her, or his, own mind.
Listening to the traditions led Aldos Huxley to formulate “the perennial philosophy,” a compilation, of sorts, of the common points of a wide number of views of God—but, there is nothing sacrosanct about Huxley’s list. Different writers emphasize different things. The important point is to have a view of God that takes into account other views of God, and sees that our view of God is not to be confused with, or taken for, God.
God is beyond all views of God. Mystery is the ground of life, being and value. The source is essentially unknown and unknowable. And, yet, there is the ache, the urge, to draw close to God, to live aligned with the way of God, so that our heart beats in synch with the heart of Mystery, and our soul is at-one with the Soul of all that is, and has been, and will be, visible and invisible, worlds without end.
We live with the Mystery, and with the yearning for the Mystery, knowing that we do not know what we long to know, yet, living toward our best guess regarding who God is, and who God would have us be in each situation as it arises. In this, there can be no separation between knowing, doing and being.
As we live toward what we think we know of God, we incorporate God-like-ness into our way with life, and deepen our knowledge of God. We live into the Mystery of God—we do not think our way there. And, when we talk about what we know of the Mystery, our words sound like nonsense to those who don’t know what we are talking about, who have had no experience of the Mystery, and do not know whereof we speak. We can but speak in paradoxes and riddles, and are of no help to the unknowing ones.
“Take up your cross,” says Jesus, “and follow me.” That’s the directive. That’s the map. That’s the explanation. If we want to know God, we have to live in ways that are as God-like as we can manage, and the Mystery will unfold before us, one step at a time.