Monday, November 12, 2012

God happens when no one is looking

Why is it so difficult to fully articulate our experiences of our encounter with the sacred?  After all, we can talk about our faith in terms of articles and dogmatic teachings.  These give solid and rational grounds for our belief in the supernatural, and it is our responsibility to not live in any form of ignorance of our faith.  We owe it to ourselves to strengthen our belief so that our faith does not just stay on the level of a mere superficial understanding, but that it is given greater and greater depth for strong roots to grow and from this, gain a firm foundation.  This, we all know, is difficult but it is also something that requires a certain diligence and hard work.

But when it comes to our personal experiences of God, the difficulties appear to take on a whole different level.  Countless holy men and women through the ages who have been graced by God to have a sacred encounter with him in their mystical experiences.  But they have also often said that it was so difficult to put their experience into words.  They appear somewhat stymied in their language to be accurate and clear.  In fact, words seem to fall so far short from the reality of the encounter. Words tend to cheapen the experience, giving the listener the false impression that just to hear a second or third hand account of the experience is enough for him or her.  Famously, St Thomas Aquinas, a master theologian and truly gifted scholar who wrote tomes about God in a systematic manner, was gifted with what can only be described as a mystical experience toward the end of his life.  When he came out of that experience, he could only say that all that he wrote about God was “like straw” because rich and deep though his writings had been, they could not come close to the reality of the love of God.  And we can be sure that what St Thomas encountered was not even the full beatific vision, but just a fleeting glimpse of its eternal and ever-radiant beauty.  Contrary to what some may think, it does not mean that just because St Thomas saw his work “like straw” that we should not be studying theology or invest our time and resources in theological reflection.

Perhaps this “difficulty” is the very nature of every true God experience.  Experiences of deepest life and love have a certain hidden quality about it.  After all, how many of us can truly say what love is?  We can only talk or write words that somehow give the general idea of what it is, but we can never fully wrap our minds around it.  In fact, this is not what we are meant to do – to figure it out, and to ‘solve’ God in some logical and sensible way.  We in our limited spatial and time-bound existence want to do this, because it gives us a false sense of control, which could easily lead to a spiritual arrogance and the sin of pride.  God knows that there must be thousands of souls who have such inner experiences with Him who have chosen to remain silent about their graced encounters because such intimate moments with the creator are precisely that – intimate.  And to flaunt our intimate moments for all to see and seems to be the sin of our times.  A clear example of this is when people think it is a sign of bravado and maturity to put on the internet videos of their sexual exploits when it is in reality a public display of foolhardiness, egotism, immaturity and harebrained insouciance.

We may need to learn something from the silence in the pivotal moments of the life of Jesus Christ, where there was no audience, no big production, no publicity and no witnesses.  These moments are the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, and the moment of the resurrection in the tomb.  Sure, we have the account of the annunciation in Luke’s gospel but even that is not a first-hand encounter.  Scripture exegetes are wont to believe that St Luke personally spoke with the Blessed Virgin to get an account of the annunciation, but the language and the circumstances do not themselves give much away.  Even Mary is left wondering, “How can this happen?”  And of course, there is no eyewitness to the moment of the Resurrection of our Lord either.  What these two pivotal events have in common is that they are moments of God entering in a most supernatural way into the life of humanity.  They are indeed moments of great intimacy of divinity and humanity, which do not allow for displays of grandeur and curious attention, least of all fodder for the voyeuristic.

These are the characteristics of the interior life. Knowing this will remind us that if in our lives we find ourselves clamouring for attention, mass displays of hype, and with a predilection for the sensational, in the things we do, we may be tuning ourselves out from the ways which God often uses to draw us close to him.  

1 comment:

  1. Somehow I feel that we will never be able to adequately articulate or express fully in words our experience of the holy or the sacred....... the Divine – for we are finite beings - limited in the using of only our human senses to express something that has a will-o-the-wisp elusiveness, that requires ‘soul-connections’....or as you have said, ’experiences...........(that) have a certain hidden quality about it.’’ - a mystery! One philosopher-theologian called it an “ I-Thou’’ relationship –which ( according to him) is about love and intimacy and trust between two souls or a soul and divinity. If this were so, then how brash we are to even try to ‘humanly’ describe it!

    On the human to human level, I feel that intimate moments become tawdry displays when flaunted to all and sundry. Where education has failed to en-noble man, I feel it is imperative for society to question and reflect on the direction the prevailing system is heading............and whether we are foolishly priding ourselves as a tolerant society or are we clinging on to our blinkers because we are too cowardly to own up that we are losing our moral compass ?

    God bless you, Father