- in a numinous experience you feel yourself “to be in communion with a holy other” who can “attract, fascinate and compel” as well as evoke “fear and trembling”;
- in a mystical experience “all ‘otherness’ disappears” and you become “one with the transcendent.”
Whether or not you subscribe to such an analysis, it does point to the fact that God is experienced in radically different ways. You can’t pin God down.
The Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition majors on the numinous. The word ‘God’ is a proper noun. Most of our religious language points to God as ‘other’; we address God as ‘Thou’. It is the default model of God in our culture, and when people opine about God, it is this idea of God they imagine they know enough about to have an opinion on.
Other traditions focus on the mystical – God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.28) Here the word ‘God’ is not a noun – or any other of the usual parts of speech. ‘Losing yourself’ in appreciation, delight, wonder, beauty, music, love, nature and landscape (this is not a comprehensive list!), and being ‘utterly absorbed’ in an activity, are intimations of the mystical. (Creation is an almost universal way of connecting with God, largely overlooked by western Christianity – but this thought is for another day.)
God is beyond imagination. We hazard ideas. We build upon traditions of understanding. We can have some trust in what has been learned about God down the millennia and thereby follow forms of living that are life-giving. When push comes to shove we’re all whistling in the dark. Nobody knows the truth. Beware those who are too certain.
It’s like science (or any other discipline of learning). We have some ideas of what reality is like, we have theories and traditions of knowledge, we can make some predictions and create a technology based on those theories. In the end our theories are only our best shot for now, our ideas faltering attempts to understand, our models not reality. Nobody knows the truth. Beware those who are too certain.
Seek the one, true God; there is nothing more important. But you will never know the truth, you will never get to the bottom of it all. Crucially, relationship is more important than truth.
Here’s are some possibilities for relationship:
- God with skin on – a Jesus or a Buddha:
- some of you have a very natural, immediate, everyday, chatty relationship with Jesus;
- for others a statue, image or an icon brings you into the Presence;
- your nearest-and-dearest: lover, children, a beloved friend;
- God of the universe:
- the God of the scientist,
- the Creationist,
- and the Evolutionary Theorist;
- nature, walking, your garden, looking up at the stars;
- a spiritual force:
- the charismatic;
- those inspired by music, poetry, visual arts;
- readers and writers, musicians and composers, artists who participate though creativity;
- a God beyond imagination, no-thing:
- the contemplative who does not look to know God, but only to love God;
- or the meditator who seeks non-attachment, no-self, the void.
Do you need to think that one of these is better than another? Do you need to think you must find the right way of prayer? The question is not ‘Which is the best way to pray?’ but ‘What leads me towards life, love and trust in God?’ Your answer will be different at different times in life, on different days of the week, at different times in the day.
It is ok to pray differently at different times. It’s ok not to pray as other people recommend. Being unique, your relationship with God will be different from mine, and God will draw you in a unique manner.
Do not strive to be consistent, coherent, or clear. The one thing necessary is desire. How you express that desire will vary.
What do you want right now?
Allow God to come to you in different guises. Allow yourself to be surprised. Don’t be picky. Be adult at times, and a child or a creature at other times. Call God ‘Thou’ in the daytime and ‘Daddy’ at night. Rant at God at your suffering as you listen to the news. Sit on Jesus’ knee with a hurt. Be still and silent as the sun rises. Walk with Her in the cool of the evening. Listen to the sound of the rain. Relax in companionable silence.
It is like your friends / lovers / family. You relate to those closest to you depending upon circumstance: chatting, playing, shopping, making love, fighting, hanging out, seeking forgiveness, doing the chores, having time apart, watching TV… Why should it be any different with Ultimate Reality?
In what ways do you think of God?
How does this effect how you pray?
How do you need to pray right now?