Valid questions. But the methods? Not so valid.
It could just be me but I am inclined to feel more and more that knowing the Divine Presence…experiencing God…requires no effort whatsoever. No tokens. No winning numbers. That there are actually no conditions whatsoever you must meet in order to make it possible to know God.
“I need a job,” you say. So you fill out an application for employment.
“I need God,” you feel. So you go to church and the preacher says, “Here’s what you MUST DO…” and, depending on which church it is, the laundry list, though different, will clearly spell it out – the conditions for employment, that is. And, the pay…the reward…what you can expect in return.”
I could be wrong but, today, I feel that anything you must “DO” in order to “KNOW” God is questionable.
What do you think?
For example, when I was a young minister, and that was a pretty long time ago now, I was always saying and preaching things that began with a two-letter word “IF…”
….”If you believe…” and then, I would enumerate those things my Christian tradition taught me must be “believed” BEFORE grace would work.
….”If you are sorry for your sins…” and, growing up in our heavily judgmental religious environment, how could anyone not have been “sorry” for their sins?
….”If you will pray, God will __________.” You fill in the blank.
I think you see where I was going. I was always about placing “conditions” on grace. Coming to my church was a lot like going to the Casino on the river. People would come, and in great number, with their tokens of hope. They would drop them in the offering plate and I would preach to them, giving them hints as to the winning numbers. Their prayers were like pulling the one-armed bandit and they would eagerly watch whether their lives would spin into success.
I was thinking about all of this because, just this morning, I was reading what was likely the preamble to a famous preacher’s sermon here in America who will be delivering it this very day. He was describing God’s Presence and whether it would be in each of our homes. A second in a two-part sermon series, his point was, and I quote, “If a family desires the presence of God in their home, then they should have an altar in the house.”
“Really?” I thought.
Are we really still preaching this stuff?
When will we get it?
It reminded me of the nonsense I used to preach. Eager patrons will fill his pews this morning…their pockets filled with tokens…ready to purchase a little Grace.
“If you’ll go to church, God will…”
“…bless you…reward you…be with you…”
Conditions. Tokens. Religious slot-machines into which we drop our tokens called prayers.
Is all of this true?
My friend, I’m inclined to think it’s a lot of religious wagering…spiritual nonsense…
Seems to me instead, the deeper your experience of Grace, the greater your awareness of just how effortless…how mysterious…how conspicuously absent is the struggle to know God. The longer I walk freely with the Divine, the more fortunate I feel to know this Immortal and Divine Other who has taken up my journey, instead of the other way around.
Saint Paul told the Athenians atop the Areopagus: “You men of Athens…I found also an altar…The God that made the world and all things within it dwelleth not in temples (or altars) (or, religious Casinos)…though he is not far from any of us” (Acts 17)?”
“…though he is not far from any of us.”
How far is “not far” from me? From you?
Why, my friend, would there be a reason to seek that which is nearer to you than the air you breathe?
You do not “seek” to breathe, you just breathe.
Why not practice remembering today, or as often as it comes to you, that, with every breath you breathe, you inhale the very Presence?
I gave up my search for God…the one I had been on for a very long time…the precise instant I experienced real Grace. Grace that is simply the realization…the realization itself a grace…that Grace is simply the inner knowing I could never find what had found me already.
When you know this Grace, my friend, you’ll have no need for the tokens, whether you’re under the steeple this morning or sipping a Cappucino in Starbucks.