These are questions I am supposed to write a one-page response to in my Episcopal Education for [Lay] Ministry course, a four-year program of 36 two-hour sessions. In all, we spend 288 hours creating in community a theological grounding for our faith. Two-thirds the way through Year 3, I’ll answer in this way. You, my blog readers (and classmates) will share with me what I have discovered.
First, How do I know God? In English we have only one verb “to know.” In many other languages there are two. Latin, for example, has scire and cognoscere, French savoir and connaître, German wissen and kennen. The first term in each pair means something like knowing from the outside in, whereas the second is more like knowing from the inside out. For example, you use the first of these terms with facts and figures; you use the second to know somebody or some place through personal experience. Examples, I know Carl; that’s just how he is. Or, I’m a New Yorker born and bred (true in my case): I know the City inside and out. Through study I have come to know about the Judeo-Christian deity; through contemplation over 60 years, I have been getting to know God as a spiritual essence which more and more lives inside me, animates me, and gives me guidance on matter of import, something like a resident GPS system for living.
Second, How does God reach me? To begin with, I think there are myriad ways up the Holy Mountain, or to change the metaphor, all ground is potentially Holy. God’s Reality is always and everywhere present. Needed, as Jesus explained, are the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it. In my case the spiritual Clear Eye and Q-Tips were supplied in an act of Grace which arrived in spring 1961 in the form of a contemplative exercise originally received in 1924 by a Javanese (Indonesian) Muslim mystic named Muhammad Subuh. The exercise is a free-form moving meditation something like Ecstatic Dance, except that the only music supplied is from one’s own voice. Like a kaleidoscope, movements, sounds, silences, and internal visualizings typically change over time. In my case, the primary result has been an ever-deepening feeling of the Presence of God the Holy Spirit living and working inside me. I think of the hymn “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” but in this case, I can feel when my legs are being moved by me or by ME. I also think of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614 – 12 February 1691), a former soldier who became a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. Serving mainly as a cook, he practiced whatever he did—for example, cutting beans—as an act in the presence of God. Over time, all the monks and even the abbot came to him for advice, for he was clearly perceived by them as an ever-flowing fountain of wisdom. Later, the abbot put together things Lawrence had said under the title The Practice of the Presence of God. That has become my practice too, and that is the way God has reached me and continues to do so, not only during those few times a week when I do my spiritual exercise for half an hour, but more and more at other times as well. The whole process has been my journey from Reynold to REYNOLD, my biggest and best essence living by the Grace of God inside this Ren.