Can we ever really know God? Like a friend, or even a lover? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have and enjoy such a relationship? I think it is possible and also one of the best things we can enjoy on earth! Here are some suggestions.
First, learn to appreciate and love silence. That’s hard in our culture. Life can be noisy. We’re surrounded with radios, TV’s, engines, airplanes, telephones, and, even “smart phones.” Some of us find silence disconcerting, wanting endless noise, entertainment, distractions and stimulation. However, noise can prohibit us from really knowing ourselves, and more importantly, who we are as God’s Children.
Even churches can be quite noisy. Meetings with discussions, planning, and sharing tend to dominate. Presbyterians are noted for their meetings, struggling to keep things “decent and in order!” Worship services become filled with sounds; music, announcements, and talking leaders. I once asked confirmands to time the amount of silence in our services. There wasn’t much.
To experience and feel God’s presence, solitude and quiet are indispensable. The Psalm today, chapter 46, contains a verse which says, “Be still and know God.” The Hebrew word for “be still” is rapha which means “to become weak,” or to “let go and release.” Another Hebrew word used in some manuscripts is dumas, the root of our English word, “dumb.” We not only become still and quiet in silence but give up our thinking. In popular Eastern meditation, it is often called “mindful breathing.” We watch our breath as a way to close our minds to feel stillness, or Spirit’s presence.
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry. There he was tested but also assured God would be with him. In the book of 1 Kings 19, Elijah the prophet, after experiencing defeat and humiliation, went into the wilderness to find God and peace. He came to a cave and waited. When a terrible storm came by, he thought this might be it, but nothing happened. Then things became very silent, as if time suddenly stopped, and he heard God’s still small voice. Elijah returned with hope and peace.
Before we can appreciate silence, however, we must remember one important truth; in our essence, we are not our bodies but spirit. Such is the key to understanding the use of silence. Silence without understanding ourselves as Spirit can be torture; it might even drive some crazy!
Jesus said to his disciples, “God is spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, English Revised) We become stuck in our body identifications like bees in their honey. We can’t imagine ourselves as Spirit. We want to think our bodies will be raised. We are attached to our ego/body identifications. A priest once told me people ought never to be cremated because there would be no body raised “on the last day.” We are not our bodies, however; we are Spirit. So, whether our stillness times are long or short, remembering we are Spirit is critical. The God’s Son, Daughter, or Child (temporal names) return to its Father, Mother or Maker in Oneness.
“Be still and know God.” The Hebrew word for “know” is yada which is the same word used for sexual intercourse. In the climax of intercourse, one experiences “yada,” or what we call it “orgasm.” It is the same word used in Genesis when it says, “…. Adam knew his wife.”
Wouldn’t it be nice to experience more “yada” in worship and prayer? As pastor, I hoped when people came to our services, they would leave feeling more “yada!”
Holy Communion can give “yada” to our souls. Jesus once said, “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you can have no part of me!” And, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Wow! Of course, this is not literal, but spiritual, figurative language. That’s what Holy Communion, the “Lord’s Supper” or Catholic Mass, is all about. They are symbolic ways to go beyond our body/material world senses. Mass, Holy Communion and the “Lord’s Supper” are culminations of the service, time for high “yada.”
After a good spiritual “yada,” people take things less seriously. They realize anew this world is not their home; they realize they are only strangers here for a little while until they “gme.” ohn writes in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love this world or the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Everything here is just passing, ephemeral; it’s not Spirit. Don’t take it so seriously.
So, schedule time for silence. Use it to meditate and be healed. Meditation has the root of medi, or healing. Through proper mind control and clearing, you’ll experience more healing and joy. You will be entering the great “cloud of unknowing” which the anonymous monk wrote about in the 14th century. He was writing about the lost art of mysticism, reclaiming that which Dante’s famous play was about, our “Paradise Lost.”
Spend time each day in practicing stillness and knowing. Get out of your mind! Prepare a place in your house to do it. Go to nearby quiet places. And amid all the losses you perceive with church buildings, in the national hopes for peace, and a world without war and hunger, you’ll likely experience more “yada” than ever expected.
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descended, our full homage to demand!”
(from liturgy of St. James, 4th Century)