“Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows God-self everywhere, in everything – in people and in things and in nature and in events. It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything, and we cannot be without God. The only thing is that we don’t see it.” Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk
Just a short few days ago, Christians across the world celebrated Easter, the holiest and most sacred season for our faith. As the apostle Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ was not resurrected, then our faith is vain. It is at Easter that many of us are most aware of the gift of forgiveness, grace, mercy and eternal life manifested by the resurrection. And, it is at this season and the days following leading to Pentecost that many of us deeply feel our need to draw close sensitively seeking an intimate presence of God speaking to us.
Knowing and Hearing God
Thomas Merton wrote many devotional works aimed at encouraging his readers to know and hear the Divine within their daily routine and the world surrounding them. His perspective was surely influenced by his years as a Trappist monk living a life of frequent solitude and quiet in the Abbey of Gethsemani outside Bardstown, KY. The words of the Psalm 46 directing us to “be still and know God” must have been dear to Merton whose life and writings encourage us to adopt a more serene and contemplative lifestyle amid the clutter, noise, and clamor of life. Merton’s writings encourage us to place ourselves in a mode in which we are more able to feel and hear God.
The notion that we can know and actually “hear” God has not been very popular, especially among Protestants, since the Reformation and the subsequent Age of Reason. Both discounted the reality of mystical spiritual encounters with God. The mystical aspects of faith are seldom even acknowledged within our own church tradition. And yet, the book of Acts tells us that the Holy Spirit arrived in a most supernatural and mystical way on Pentecost. Acts is further filled with recounting of mystical experiences including Christ, the Apostles, and numerous other followers of Jesus.
Experiencing the Presence of God
When we discount the reality of our ability to draw close spiritually to God, to be quiet, to empty ourselves, to surrender fully even for a brief moment, then we are the people Merton says don’t see or hear God. We miss those glimpses of the Kingdom of God breaking in on the earth. How ironic given the fact that Jesus taught us to pray that we might see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
As we approach Pentecost and our acknowledgement of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, perhaps this is a time to pause, be quiet, reflect deeply, and surrender as fully as possible. Perhaps in doing so, it will become “very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without God.” Perhaps it will lead to a personal mystical experience in which you find the thin space between human and divine enables you to experience the intimate presence of God.