Ways to experience God individual, boundless
‘Tell me about God in 600 words or less!” I can’t and won’t do that. But I can invite us all to experience God in that word limit. My invitation speaks quickly of a few times I have experienced God.
It also asks questions that beg a question of you: How do you experience God as you reflect on my partial list of questions? How you experience God – both individually and within all kinds of relationships – impacts whether your God is big enough for these questions or is small enough to be threatened by them.
I remember a moment in February 1992, standing on a rock outcropping looking into the Judean desert just east of Jerusalem. I was silenced by the desolate country and wondered how Jesus could travel this land with a buoyant faith that his own God-experience was valid. In that moment, I experienced God.
Every time I’m privileged to see a child, I’m reminded of her vulnerability or his basic innocence. And I experience God. Every time I look at the wizened face of an elder, and check if her eyes are bright with hope or clouded with resignation, I experience God.
But I also try to remember there are countless other ways to experience God. So I am increasingly careful to give both myself and others the benefit of the doubt when we talk about God. I am reminded of some wisdom from Philip Gulley in “The Evolution of Faith.”
He writes: “… the more adamant we are about God, the less likely we are to embody the traits we believe are God values – love, compassion, peace, wisdom, (justice) and patience. All of these virtues are (too easily) forsaken in our efforts to refute the spiritual perspectives of others.”
This statement, of course, presumes our image of God includes those listed values. I understand some people’s experience of God may not look like what Gulley identifies as God-values. But those values are what I see in abundance in the biblical witness, particularly as identified by Jesus in his words and life.
I also think that St. Paul’s counsel in I Corinthians 13:11-12 is a good reminder. We look through dim mirrors, so we can only know in part what we actually see. Often, the God we see is mixed up with a mirror reflection of our own faces. So be cautious before locking in an image of God and thinking it is the “best” or “only” image to see.
Do the images of God you embrace reflect only one kind of God-experience? Is that your experience, or does it really belong to someone you want to trust? How is your experience inherited through the biblical witnesses – mixed and multiple as they are? How do your experiences of churches and church liturgies shape God for you?
These things – and much more – help shape who God is for us, whether very negatively or very positively. The search for God through our experiences should never end.
Hint: If you had a powerful conversion experience years ago and still cling to that as the only way to experience God, you have likely stopped your God search.
God meets us where we are, not just where someone else or where a church doctrine says God will meet us. If meeting God was that predictable, I would wonder if there’s a need for God at all. All we’d need is someone else’s word or blind obedience to a certain church doctrine or maybe a favorite Scripture verse.
My God is so much greater than that. I hope yours is too!