A Personal Experience of God?
Because God is greater than everything, God can be found if one flees away from the world, but God can come to meet one on the streets in the midst of the world. For this reason Ignatius acknowledges only one law in his restless search for God: to seek him in all things; and this means: to seek him in that spot where at any particular time he wants to be found, and it means, too, to seek him in the world if he wants to show himself in it... ~Karl Rahner, SJ
For Saint Ignatius, and one of his spiritual sons Karl Rahner, a deep and personal encounter was never the reserve of the spiritual elite. One need not enter a convent, or a hermitage, or a seminary in order to find God. Instead, one need only open one's eyes to the world and still one's heart long enough to allow the God of all creation to speak if, and when, God should choose to do so. God, as Rahner notes, can be sought and found, "in all things."
Writing on the Christians of the future, Rahner once quipped, "the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not be a Christian at all." Rahner grasped well that one's faith is hardly a matter of being indoctrinated - brainwashed? - into a system. Faith comes from a movement of the heart, from "the experience of God, of his Spirit, his freedom, bursting out of the innermost center of human existence where it is wholly real." This encounter with the Holy One, the Spirit of the Risen Christ, can occur anywhere, at any time.
Yet, many assert, "I have never had such an experience!" No, it's probably true that you haven't had an experience of God that comes under the sign "God." Would that happen more often. Instead, allow me to suggest several places where one might have encountered the Spirit of the Living God:
- A young father, patiently holding a colicky baby, allowing his wife some much needed rest even though he himself must be at work early in the morning. His heart isn't moved by selfish concern for his own fatigue but, rather, out of love for the child.
- An old woman caring for her husband of many years as he slips into the twilight of Alzheimer's.
- A career-minded young adult who, in the depths of traffic, turns off the car radio and sits in silence.
- In the countless hours of prayer seemingly 'wasted' yet drawing you deeper in the Mystery of a God who loves you.
- Being moved within one's heart to perform a random act of kindness even when you know you'll never be thanked: leaving groceries at a needy family's door, paying in advance the toll for another driver, offering to sit vigil with a sick person who may or may not know you're there.
- When you feel that, somehow, you're being called to great generosity with your life, overcome with a desire to pour yourself out for the betterment of others.
- When one can accept oneself as a poor sinner, as one who has failed numerous times and in incalculable ways, yet finds the strength and grace to rise again because, deep within, there is a sense that one is being called to continue one's journey.
- In a moment of darkness and despondency when, through the clouds obscuring one's life, a small ray of light pierces the darkness and shows one the path.
- Each time you move outside yourself in a spirit of love and compassion, giving even if it means risking rejection.
- Sharing the burden of another or allowing another to walk beside you in your hour of need.
I believe Rahner correct: we can no longer take cultural Christianity for granted. No longer can one "go through the motions" and wear the dress of a Christian on odd occasions. One must make an embodied decision to be a disciple and to witness, in word and deed, to the Gospel.
When Thomas encounters Jesus in John's Gospel, as you'll remember, Jesus appears with the marks of his crucifixion. The Resurrection doesn't erase Jesus' past, the violence inflicted upon his body...instead, the Resurrection redeems his past....and ours. In the quiet of our hearts, each of us is called daily to put our hands into the pierced side of Christ and to confess, anew, "My Lord and my God."
Each of us is called to bear upon her or his own flesh the marks of discipleship. These marks will typically not be inflicted by scourges and nails. They come in various shapes and sizes: calloused hands made rough over the course of years of thankless labor; weakened vision due to hours spent before a computer screen; gunshot wounds inflicted despite one's attempts to leave a violent past; arthritic hands crippled from repetition on an assembly line. Hands and feet, eyes and ears, bodies and souls ground down in the day-to-day offering of self for the service of the beloved.
Each one of us is called, daily, to record with our bodies and lives our friendship with the living God. This friendship has a privileged place - a daily or weekly gathering - when we celebrate the Eucharist. But if the special time we set aside each week to be with the Lord in the Eucharist and one another is to be meaningful and life-changing, it will be so only to the extent that we have opened our hearts and eyes the other 167 hours of the week to God's presence to us. As Saint Peter Claver, the slave of the slaves, said so well: Seek God in all things and you shall find God by your side.