The nearness of God

Q:

How do I experience God?

How do I experience His nearness?

The words presence and absence radiate strongly from my enquiries into these questions. In reaching for answers, I find myself embroiled in both of these qualities simultaneously. Approaching the divine enigma using the mechanism of language is an enterprise that continues to fascinate me, even in its inadequacies. The experience of God’s nearness comes wrapped in wonderful, tangled paradoxes. I’d like to share some of my rough cut paradoxes here.

  • I feel God’s nearness as a certainty within an absence. The quality of certainty turns the absence inside out – it negates it.
  • I experience God as a presence encompassed in an emptiness. ‘Emptiness’ is my brain’s best attempt at quantifying a temporal, bound perspective on the boundless and eternal.
  • The abyss into which I surrender is the presence of God.
  • The absence I feel is God.
A present absence, an absent presence

How do I experience God in times of desolation?

In other words, how is God known and felt in challenging situations, when the drudgery of the mundane seems to blacken even the tiniest glimmer of the providential? The spiritually evolving individual understands that God’s perceived distance serves to test them. In stepping back, God is simply doing what all loving fathers do for their children: giving space for independent growth and learning. By not intervening, He offers us the free will choice to hone our skills, expand our capacity for love and deepen our wisdom – or not.

"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." 

Galatians 5:13

Above all, God wants to see if we continue to choose goodness and righteousness even when we feel that He is far away and we are standing alone on the most painful edge of solitary human experience. God gives us the gift of free will in honour of our potential, and the activation of this gift can only come through a journey of (perceived) separation.

It has turbo-charged my faith to understand that when God’s paternal presence is intangible, it is not an indicator of some great inadequacy on my part, but instead the sign of a loving manoeuvre made to aid my growth. When life is tough and I feel set adrift, I match these trials with a greater determination to cultivate humility and demonstrate my trustworthiness to our maker. Within this energy of perseverance and devotion, my faith flourishes.

"And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."

Luke 14:27

On the other hand, when the external setting surrounds me with joy and happiness, the efforts I make towards bettering my faith are naturally more light-hearted. In contentment and bliss, faith blossoms with minimal grit and enterprise on my part. Whatever the outer circumstances bring, I keep doing the work of seeking Truth. Divine bribery is not required.

My perception of God as present or absent is not what matters. What matters is the grounding of faith within my heart. This is where God lives in my individual experience. He is always that close, and it is only ever my individual-self-in-pain-goggles that hinder my seeing of this.

The constantly broadening certainty of my faith serves to assist in cleaning the lenses of these self-goggles on a daily basis. Faith in the heart as the seat of my relationship with God has also given me a greater sense of stability – it brings the possibility of being content in my own actuality as it shifts from one moment to the next. Nonetheless, I continue to remind myself that all expectations are hurdles, and that one of the more noble of these hurdles comes in striving to ‘achieve’ the feeling that God is close to me at all times.





Gratitude

Today, rather than writing a shopping list, I am writing a ten-point gratitude list. Sometimes I need to remind myself that this earthly shit-show is not just grim and grotty – it is also sublime and supernatural, when I remember to zoom out. It is all too easy to get caught in the sadness and pain of this disintegrating world, or entangled in the little cell of me-and-mine-and-lack-and-sorrow.

On the surface this is a simplistic exercise, but I’ve found that a well-aimed gratitude list can call time on a particularly potent bout of heaviness and encourage the tide of balance and perspective to rise again.

I am grateful for my true Father.  

I am grateful for my inspiring circle of fellowship.

I am grateful for my brave and good-hearted brother.

I am grateful for the seed of strength that I have been given to water.

I am grateful that I can be of service to those who have ears to hear.

I am grateful for the infinite possibilities gifted to me through my mind, my heart and my hands.

I am grateful for my continuing pilgrimage through England's churches and cathedrals.

I am grateful for the perfect proportions of the Peak District.

I am grateful for freshly picked summer flowers.

I am grateful for the sound of the bees at work.
A smile from on high. St Andrew’s Church, Great Durnford, Wiltshire

For RG - because I am also grateful for you.