Recently during a meeting with my spiritual director I was speaking of my desire to draw closer to God, when she interrupted to ask if we could really do that. Her question stopped me mid-thought. How could we be any closer to the God who created us, who is in us and in every living thing, even in the inanimate things like rocks? If God as Spirit is immanent, co-existing with us in His creation, can we be any closer than we already are? Isn’t our relationship with God the most intimate that we experience? Doesn’t He know us better than we know ourselves? Yet I have acted as if God is some distant deity, transcendent, remote, towards whom I must move. I now think that I have the reality entirely backwards.
First, the Spirit is almost like a second skin within us, as close as the next cell, residing in every cell, knowing and recording for his benefit all that goes on within us. Even before we are born He know us, after all he is the Creator of all life, not just in the beginning, but active from this day until the end of time. We cannot be any closer to God than we already are. Whether we are aware of his presence or not, He is here, deep within.
What about the longing to draw closer to God, then? What we lack is an awareness of God within us. I am not sure we’re even in charge of that awareness. Do we all of a sudden wake up to wanting to be closer to God? Or does he call us out of our unconsciousness when He thinks we are ready? Or does He call us every minute of every day until we answer? The need to control our lives leads us to try to control God, too. We certainly can control our responses to the Spirit, saying no to his call or even denying his existence, but we cannot ever get away from God. We cannot divorce him, reject him, or kill him off. When philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his 1882 book, “The Gay Science,” that God is dead* he referred to how our rational minds since the Enlightenment have gradually distanced ourselves from the indwelling deity. If we do believe in God in the 21st Century, it is more likely to be a mental exercise in faith, not a heart-felt one. We cling to our beliefs even when they no longer serve us. We divide all people into who believes what; we argue against those who believe differently then we, but we seldom come together on the basis of our faith in God, our dependence on Him, or what it is like to answer the call of God in our lives.
It is when we look back on our lives that we can sometimes see God’s footprints or influence in arranging events so that we head off in a new direction from the set path we had sought. We live with the illusion that we chose where we work, what company to go with, who to marry, etc., but how often are we only reacting to circumstances not of our choosing and trying to make the best of what has happened? Is there an unseen hand manipulating the circumstances of our lives to make sure we are headed in a more appropriate direction given our unique qualities and talents?
I’m not sure we’re aware of how acculturated we really are by our parents, teachers, and society. The track they launch our little “trains” down is an evolving one; the last twenty years it’s been this: plan all your activities by how they’ll look on your college application-go to Harvard-choose the profession where you can make the most money-accumulate the most material goods-buy the biggest house, etc. Kids lives were so programmed that with all the after-school activities and homework from first grade on, they had little time to be kids. Yesterday in the New York Times Sunday paper there was an article about these kids now in college who grew up expecting everything are now unable to find internships, having to move back in with their parents, and take menial jobs if they can find them.**
When I went off to college in 1959, the track for women was this: go to college-get your MRS.-have children-live happily ever after in the shadow of your husband. No matter when we come of age we are launched onto a societal/family track that serves society and family needs. This track is deeply engrained within us at an unconscious level. Only when an unexpected event occurs like a death of a parent or friend, an illness or other catastrophe, do we get off the mindless track and see it for what it is—something chosen for us, not by us. We can always get back on the track after the crisis is over, but it will never be with the same mindlessness experienced before the event that changed our lives.
The track we grew up with works for quite a while into our adulthood, until we finally realize that we’re living someone else’s life, doing things that aren’t fulfilling to us, and don’t really have a clue as to what we want to do with our lives. The track also has to do with religion—I would say that a tepid response to God is quite all right in our country, that even the evangelical approach is ok, but don’t go off the deep end of really giving over your life to God, of all things. Do good things, help others, volunteer, but stay in charge of yourself and your plan. Keep your faith mental, don’t get emotionally involved, don’t’ evangelize. Can you imagine how hard God must work to be heard above or beneath these parameters?
For me I am working on my awareness of God in all things and people. This is quite a stretch to remember to look for God’s imprint everywhere. I am out to prove to myself that I can see it everywhere. I am already somewhat attuned to Spirit’s presence, so all I need to do is pay attention more and see what the potential is in the current moment. I invite you to do the same, to notice how God is calling you today, right now. Does the bird outside your window carry a message? Do the trees have something to tell? What about the stones that have been around forever? Does the book you’re reading offer something beyond just the text? Does a friend insist that you do something, like read a particular book? Or did you just meet someone who brings a whole new perspective to an issue you are working on? In any situation there are a thousand possible outcomes. Which ones does God bring? Enjoy the adventure!
**The New York Times, Sunday, July 5, 2009, Sunday Styles section, p. 1