In our quest for God we think too much, reflect too much, talk too much. Even when we look at this dance that we call creation, we are the whole time thinking, talking (to ourselves and others) reflecting, analyzing, philosophizing. Words. Noise.
Be silent and contemplate the dance.
And hopefully, it won’t be long before you see him – the dancer himself!
Anthony De Mello
The past few weeks of holiday time were filled for me with baby time – wonderful contemplative hours, in fact days on end, just looking into the beautiful face of my daughter’s newborn baby girl! We all know how babies change and grow and every day there is something new to delight us, and it wasn’t long before she excitedly said one day, “Mum, I think she’s aware of being cuddled”. A baby doesn’t analyse and reason, she responds to what is around her, she ‘goes with the flow’, and so her words got me thinking about ourselves, our lives in God, our faith journey, our spiritual growth.
Faith is a choice we make, an openness to this Mystery we call God, and in that journey we are inspired, informed and shaped in many ways. Words, stories, theology, teachings, models and guides, religious or spiritual experiences, all play a part. But in this quest to know God and surrender to God there is a danger. We can become too attached to all this and in our quest for God we can stop short of the infinite Mystery into which we are being led. Our spiritual journey can become too caught up in what is going on in either our head or our heart or both. That is certainly not to say that our intellect, our thoughts, our reasoning faculty, do not play a part in this journey. They do. And it is a most valuable path. Nor is it to say that our emotional states have nothing to teach us in our faith journey either. They certainly do. But the danger is that we can make the mistake of seeing our concepts, our words and our stories, as ultimate, as the end-point of this journey. Likewise we can become dependent on religious feeling as an indication that we are progressing in this journey. Emotional states come and go, and when we no longer feel God’s presence faith can evaporate too. It may surprise you to hear that Mother Teresa of Calcutta, that great icon of faith, said that for sixty years she did not feel God’s presence. For the last sixty years of her life, from the age of twenty-nine, she did not experience any feeling of God’s nearness. She struggled with that and has written of this in her journals, desperately wanting to recapture that feeling of God’s closeness that she had so powerfully known as a young woman. However, in spite of this emptiness she remained a woman of faith. She chose to remain there, to plant herself there, and even though in terms of religious feeling it was a barren place, she knew it was right. And out of that deeply held sense of rightness she made her choices about how to live and what to do for others.
There are many ways of knowing. We come to know through our senses, through our head and through our heart, but beyond all of these, there is another kind of knowing. In the Book of Psalms the psalmist counsels, “Be still and know that I am God”. This is much like a baby just being aware of being cuddled. It is a place where argument and concepts are put to rest. It is a place of listening and attentiveness, where we surrender to the initiative that is God’s. And that’s hard because it’s much easier to reason and argue and design lofty concepts. It is a place which may indeed feel barren and dry and empty. So much of our journey into God is about quietening those voices, quietening our minds, and not hankering after those consoling and uplifting spiritual feelings.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator