For Martin Luther King, Jr., God didn’t become a living reality until he discovered the presence of God in his everyday experience. Not until he had felt an inner calm (that he believed was not his own) and had discovered resources of strength (that he believed were not his own) did King conclude God was at work in his life. Not until he had felt a sustaining hope (that he believed was not his own) in spite of threats to his life, discouraging setbacks, and the hardships of a bitter struggle, did he conclude God was at work in his life.
Some call the calm and strength and hope King felt, salvation. Others, resurrection. They experience tranquility in the face of tragedy, the whence of which they can’t explain. They experience courage in the face of danger, the whence of which they can’t explain. They experience hope in the face of failure, the whence of which they can’t explain. They become convinced the whence is God. God has saved them. God has resurrected them.
Is God at work? Although we can argue about the whence of such experiences, the experiences themselves cannot (and should not) be denied.
Before he discovered God’s active presence in his life, King had believed that God was a metaphysical category, a remote form without content. Many persons, not just King, have a God who seems remote, removed from our everyday lives, removed from our ordinary problems and concerns, removed from our deepest sorrows and greatest triumphs, ‘out there’ somewhere, seemingly unreachable, seemingly unconcerned.
The technical term used (not just by naked theologians) for this kind of God is ‘transcendent’ because that God lies outside or transcends the human realm.
If a quick glance at our history can serve as a reliable guide, most human beings have little tolerance for vast distances between themselves and a transcendent God. Even a theologian like King who enjoyed and excelled in abstract thinking could not leave God in the heavens—God did not become a ‘living’ reality for him until he perceived God as present in the commonplace–in the human realm.
The technical term used (not just by naked theologians) for this kind of God is ‘immanent’ derived from the Latin, in manere, ‘to remain within’.
The history of human theological ideas shows that human beings who believe or have faith in a transcendent God often find ways to ‘reach up’ to God or to understand God as ‘reaching down’ to them. This human-God distance has been breached in creative ways—think of Moses who sees God’s backside. Is prayer not also a way to breach the distance? Contemplation? Reading Scripture? Practicing Kabbalah? The list is long.
When King writes, “in many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope,” he reveals that, for him, God ‘reached down’ and transformed him personally. King’s God has a loving purpose and controls the universe; God is a cosmic companion in the struggle for righteousness; God is a benign power with feeling and will; God is responsive to the deepest yearnings of the human heart (though King does not say how).
Is King’s God still too distant or too immanent?
Whether too distant or too immanent, King’s God sustained him in his work to secure a different, better world.
How do you bridge the distance (if any) between yourself and the divine? How does your God sustain you? How does your God sustain you in making the world a better place for more people?
It’s your turn to expose yourself.
We have the experience… it’s real, it’s potent… and we choose to label it–or we don’t. It’s meaningful, either way. Was that God? Damned if I know. What it was was awe-inspiring and surprising, and the earth moved (at least from a relativistic perspective). God? Dunno. Mystery, certainly.
I can leave it there. It didn’t label itself. Nor will I–my choice.
How do *I* bridge it? I don’t. I know it’s there–and there, and there, and there and right here… and have the bruise on the middle of my forehead (metaphorically) to prove that. But it “speaks” when and if and as it chooses.
I’d like to think that it doesn’t need to get my attention when I’m doing what (I think…) is right and good–but only speaks up to remind me, or ask me if I really want to step out into the street without looking (that’s a joke, son…). We’ll see, I guess. I dunno–it’s a Mystery.
But I think–I think–I felt it very fleetingly the other night, trudging sweating and spattered in mucky snow after corralling a couple other people and helping shove a car free of the snow it was stuck in. Or maybe I just would like to think so.
Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. I, at least, thought I bridged that perceived gap for an instant… or rather that it was bridged. My doing? Who knows?
Josh Davis said:
1. Reading: Theological and Ethical texts from many traditions. Emphasis on mystics and existentialist theologians. Try to pay attention to specific practices prescribed. Favorites: Bhagavad Gita (Isherwood and Swami Prabhananda translation); Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters by Martin Buber; Way of the Sufi and Wisdom of the Idiots by Idries Shah; Life of Moses by Gregory of Nyssa; anything by William Law.
2. Application: What Aldous Huxley refers to as “self-naughting” in The Perennial Philosophy. Always trying to remove the hand of my individual life from before my eyes, as the Hasids put it. Watching out for judgment, anger, worry, depression, etc. and trying to replace them with compassion, patience, faith, joy, etc. If that’s not possible, just trying to watch the internal play. Lots of reflection.
3. Prayer: Giving thanks. Praying for others to have what they need. Praying for myself to have more faith, compassion, patience, joy, etc. so that I can be of more use to others.
4. Music: Playing music on flute and drums. Listening to music. Re-interpreting pop lyrics as devotional poetry. Putting Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints on whenever I feel down.
5. Meditation: Mornings after waking, before the rest of the house is up. Controlled breathing, focus on mantra or just focus on heart or forehead chakra point.
6. Writing: Helps to clarify things I’ve read and thoughts I’ve had. Sometimes turns into a message for a Sunday morning service. Mostly essays, sometimes poetry.
7. Community: Being WITH people, not just in their vicinity. Being of service to others. Accepting the service of others. Trying to be always open and honest. Listening, not just hearing. Speaking, not just making sounds.
8. Retreat: Mountains are important. Rivers are important. Quiet spots alone with nature. Playing my flute for the birds. Singing to the stones. Solitude in the wilderness of my beloved Montana (Rattlesnake or Missions or Bitterroots).
9. Ashram: Trips to Nepal. Building a community school there. Staying with Kali Baba at the Ashram. Decompressing away from all the clocks and clock-jockeys. Absorbing the peace of the place.
And yes, somehow it all has its effect. Real and undeniable. God reveals Herself/Himself/Itself.
Is it God or my subconscious or Sad Guru speaking within me, telling me to “suffer fools, they suffer you,”? Was it Goddess Lakshmi or Jehovah watching out for me when I ran out of money one year in Nepal, prodding a friend to email me, saying she felt “strangely compelled” to find out what I needed before I even thought to ask her for help? Is it Divine assistance or self-hypnosis that has changed my personality so? Who knows, and who needs to know? I am more filled with Love and more loved than before I started this journey, so I don’t ask too many questions.
So I know God(dess) is a reality, ever-present, always loving. She is closer to me that my own self, as close as my own soul. My soul and this Reality are not two. Tat Tvam Asi. Thou Art That. Sometimes I forget but she always helps me to remember. Thank “Bob” for that.
Chip Roush said:
I do not perceive an inherent distance between myself and the Spirit of Life; it permeates and grounds all things. That said, I often *feel* a disconnect or distance–but it is always because I have drifted or ceased to pay attention. When, at last, I sigh and say, “Thank you… I’m sorry… I hurt… I desire… Please… Praise… Thank you,” I have virtually always felt better for doing it. And, praise be, so far things have generally worked out for the highest good of all concerned (to the extent I am qualified to judge).
At other times, without any request, I have felt Spirit moving in and/or around me, nudging me, chastising me, delighting me, inspiring me…sustaining me. I know that something larger than me–larger than all of us–exists and is working through us with unsentimental love.
As it sustains me, as it provides a larger framework against which to see my and our struggles, it also calls me to respond. It is possible to work against the ultimate flow and evolution, but why would I want to? My own experience is strengthened and made more meaningful by working *with* Spirit. I do so imperfectly; slowly, clouded by ignorance and selfishness, often withholding part of my energies…and still I feel rewarded, sustained and encouraged in the long run.
Even in the face of evil, the heroism, determination and creativity demonstrated by our human cousins inspires me. Not that any of us does or should seek to suffer, or to inflict suffering, but the grace with which some of us handle our suffering ennobles us all. With our every daily effort, we give testimony to the Spirit of Life, manifesting and evolving through us.
…or so I understand, as of today.
copied from http://theyeschurch.blogspot.com/2009/01/bridging-and-sustaining.html
My experience bears similarity to that described by Chip. I don’t experience a distance between myself and the divine. Bridging implies that there is a separation of some sort. I am never separate from the divine, for the divine is intermingled with all matter in this world. Suffering begins when I fail to notice that the holy is in all things. When mind bolts ahead to all that must be done in a future that has yet to even come into being, or mind becomes occupied in a replay of some drama that is merely a mirage from the past, I don’t perceive the divine, that play of the holy in the here-and-now. The dance of snowflakes in the wind, the tingle of cold winter air on my cheeks, the joy that flows from working together with my partner on a project escape me when my attention drifts from this very moment. The snow becomes a drudge, the cold acts like pin-pricks on my cheeks, and my partner morphs into a vexation when mind drifts from connection with this moment and the divine.
I murmur a silent prayer of thanks in those fleeting moments when I attend to only that which is unfolding before me in all its wonder and complexit. For that moment, I am that part of the universe which is aware of itself. I call these moments of attention God . . . and they sustain me. The long, hard work toward justice for all living things; the ability to see God in what others would consider an enemy comes when I stay in this very moment.
Praise be the God of all that is in us and around us. May we notice God this very moment, this every moment.