God is always given

Tues 12th Jan
God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves. [1] It is that simple and that difficult. To be present in prayer can be like the experience of being loved at a deep level. I hope you have felt such intimacy alone with God. I promise you it is available to you. Maybe a lot of us just need to be told that this divine intimacy is what we should expect and seek. We’re afraid to ask for it; we’re afraid to seek it. It feels presumptuous. We can’t trust that such a love exists–and for us. But it does.

Often the imagery used to illustrate the human-divine relationship is erotic, because it is the only adequate language to describe the in-depth contemplative experience. I have often wondered why God would give us creatures such a strong and constant fascination with one another’s image, form, and face. What is the connection between our human passion and knowing God? Are all relationships a school of communion?

Healthy religion, as the very word re-ligio (“rebinding”) indicates, is the task of putting our divided realities back together again: human and divine, male and female, heaven and earth, sin and salvation, mistake and glory. The mystics–such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila, and the author of The Song of Songs in the Bible–are those who put it together very well. The Sufi mystic Shams-ud-din Mohammed Hafiz (c. 1320-1389) writes Persian poetry with such integration between human love and divine love that the reader often loses the awareness of which is which. Let the distinctions fall away as you read Hafiz’s poem “You Left a Thousand Women Crazy”:

Beloved,
Last Time,
When you walked through the city
So beautiful and so naked,

You left a thousand women crazy
And impossible to live with.

You left a thousand married men
Confused about their gender.

Children ran from their classrooms,
And teachers were glad you came.

And the sun tried to break out
Of its royal cage in the sky
And at last, and at last,
Lay its Ancient Love at Your feet. [2]

Yes, Hafiz is talking about God’s abundant presence walking through the streets of time and city, but his images come from human fascinations and feelings. Yes, he is talking about seething human desire, but he is also convinced that it is a sweet path to God. Why has this integration, this coincidence of seeming opposites, occurred with relative rarity in much of organized religion? It is more common in native spiritualities, Hinduism, and among the Islamic and Catholic mystics, who move beyond fast food religion to the mystery itself.

One would think that the religious tradition that would have most welcomed this integration, would have been Christianity. After all, Christianity is the only religion that believes God became a living human body (John 1:14)–a full, concrete, and physical enfleshment or “Incarnation.” We call this incarnation “Jesus.” If the Word became flesh, then God is saying flesh is good, just as God did at Creation (Genesis 1:31). Yet sometimes other religious traditions seem to bow before this mystery better than Christians do. I think that is the exact meaning and prediction of the three wise men from the East who “fell to their knees and did him homage” (Matthew 2:11).

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