Monday, April 12, 2010

Thoughts About and Experiences of God

When I am sitting around in conversation about religious matters, at what point is it I am in conversation about thoughts, feelings, experiences, guesses about how life works, etc. What I am asking is: what exactly is our religious talk based on?

At one time and in one conversation or monologue I can be so certain that I know something of God, even from God sometimes. And, at other times, my 'knowing' seems very uncertain and to give way to Psalm 131: "O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high. I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul . . . "

And, when my "knowing" gives way to this trust, I often feel I have reached the deepest level of knowing which shapes my life in a holy way.

The mystics are right: there is a way of "knowing" that arises from a deep sense of "not knowing." But, this "not knowing" is not skepticism, but its opposite. This "not knowing" trusts in another and trusts in something deep and mysterious in the self. This trust and experience of our Creator's trustworthiness is the deepest part of faith that I know.

Have you ever been with someone you loved and trusted very much, and the two of you were facing a very difficult problem? And, it was unclear what you should do. Have you ever had the feeling that even though you didn't have any idea of what to do at that moment, that nonetheless you felt absolutely confident at that moment that the two of you would figure out the right thing to do?

It is that kind of "knowing" that I am talking about when I talk about the experience of faith.

Another thought I have been having is this: when I pray many times, I am imagining myself in relation to God and imagining God. But, there are a few times, when that imagining gives way to experiencing and communing. But, isn't that a lot like our relationships with others we are close to? We spend a good deal of time imagining that relationship, imagining how we are in relation to the other, how the other is in relation to us. We have conversations with the other in which we are trying out this or that presentation of ourselves or this or that construction of who the other is. But, sometimes, these conversations give way to utter communion, when we are talking and listening to each other so much that we are taken up in one conversation, not two separate ones trying to make contact.

So, I don't want to devalue abstract theological discussions or abstract personal discussions, or any genuine attempt to move towards understanding, whether theological or personal. It is not so much the level of the discourse that matters, but the direction and intent of that discourse that matters. Where people are joined together really seeking understanding, they tend to find it together. Where a person or persons are really seeking understanding with God, within the self, and with each other, they tend to experience it.

A good, well-intentioned abstract philosophical discussion is better and more humanly meaningful than a serious effort at personal discussion of personal and religious issues that is guided by bad motives, whether those motives are conscious or unconscious.

Where the heart is turned towards God and neighbor, about any discussion can be worth having, whether it is about tilling the garden or a new grandchild or your favorite baseball team.