One of the things that defines a maturing spirituality is our sense of the nearness of God. And this is not always something that we are taught to develop, at least not in the western Christian tradition where we are much more keen to learn about God…which can be quite a cerebral activity….we like to analyse and theologise and to use our heads to discover more about God.
This is different from developing an intimate, ongoing experience of the presence of God in the interior life of the soul. In the Eastern Christian tradition the emphasis is very much placed here.
Many of us in the west grew up with a teaching that viewed God as entirely separate from ourselves. Maybe we interpreted that God was somewhere out there in a geographical heaven, looking down on us, and perhaps this remote God even seemed a judging God whose love for us was conditional upon our adherence to a set of rules.
If so, these implied rules seemed difficult to follow and thus led to feelings of guilt or shame and anyone would struggle to develop a strong intimate relationship with such a God…even if it were possible, why would we want to?
Now, of course God is transcendent and beyond us and anything we can even begin to imagine, But God is also immanent and a closer look at scripture shows us a very different view of God from the remote God we try to believe in. Here we see one that is much more intimate, and much more loving.
Psalm 139:7-10…Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If ascend to heaven you are there; If I make my bed in Sheol you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea even there your right hand shall hold me fast….
Acts 17:27-28.’God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for him and find him though he is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being’
Luke 17:21… Some Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. His answer was, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say ‘look, here it is’ or ‘there it is’; because the Kingdom of God is within you.
.”And of course Jesus was very clear about just how close he experienced that relationship
John 10:30…”I and the Father are one”
So there is something about these verses (and there are countless more) that implies that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, it’s just that we don’t always know how to access an ongoing experience of that presence.
The trajectory of a maturing spirituality is one in which we find ourselves experiencing an ever closer relationship with God. It’s not that we are actually moving closer to God but rather that we are waking up to the God whose ground resides in every single soul…no matter who we are!
The more awake to God’s inner presence the more certitude we have of this inner reality. Once we begin to engage in this way then we are led ever deeper into an intimate engagement with the inner presence that then informs all of our dealings with the world…
Now some think this inner path is for only a very few but nothing could be further from the truth. There is no soul on earth in which, in its inmost parts, God’s ground is not present. There is no soul for which God does not desire this awakening to His presence and, if we could but know it, there is no soul which does not long for union with God…albeit that longing is often way beyond our awareness.
The path however is a narrow one because it depends upon the degree to which God is the priority in our life….The great commandment To love God with heart and soul and mind and strength is in essence the call to a non dual consciousness, the experience of oneness with God…and in that we naturally then know true oneness with self and neighbour.
So in verse 17 of our Gospel reading today, which says 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.
It’s referring to our worldly consciousness, the illusion of a separate God…it’s a dualism we cannot receive the spirit of truth from a place of dualism.
Resolving the dualism comes from gathering our faculties to a single point…to love God with heart and mind and soul and strength and then, the awakening to the God who abides within the human soul is experienced ultimately as union, though the distinction between ourselves and God is never lost.
V 21 ‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’…ie the illusion is resolved’
The journey is one of stillness, of letting go of worldly attachments, of humility and of trust. And that is what makes it tricky. Our worldly selves are often controlling, busy, proud and not especially trusting at all.
Yet the desire to ‘know’ God in this fullest intimate sense is what drives the soul forward so that one day we can proclaim with Paul…
Galatians 2:20 – “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.