Excerpted from "Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God" by James Finley. Reprinted with permission from Harper SanFrancisco.

Imagine that you are in your car, driving alone on a long journey in a remote area of the country. You are searching for a certain county or small town that your map tells you should be close by, but which you cannot find. Exhausted by your long drive and frustrated that you cannot find your destination, you pull off to the side of the road.

You go into a small gas station and ask one of the locals standing there, "Can you tell me how far it is to such and such a place?" The person looks at you, laughs, and says, "You're in it!" You can't believe it. At once pleased and perplexed, you say, "I am?" "Well, yes," the person says, obviously enjoying your obvious surprise.

The path to God is like that. God is already here, all about us and within us-the very source, ground, and fulfillment of our being. But, subject to the limitations of ego consciousness, we tend not to experience the divine mystery that is the very reality of who we deep down really are and are called to be as persons created in the image and likeness of God. Subject to the limitations of ego, we do not realize directly the divine reality of reality itself. This is why we meditate: that we might awaken to the already present nature of the oneness with God we seek.

You may feel that you have a long way to go before realizing the degree of habitual meditative awareness of oneness with God exemplified by the great mystics. But the intention of your heart that motivates you to read this bears witness that a transformative journey, not of your own making, is already under way.

Imagine that you go to the ocean, take off your shoes and socks, and wade in ankle-deep. It's true that you are in only ankle-deep, but it's also true that you are in the ocean. If you bend down, touch your fingertips to the water, then touch them to your tongue, you taste salt. You feel the wind in your face. You look out at the horizon where the waterline meets the sky. You look down the shoreline. You feel the water about your ankles and, yes, you are in the ocean. In order to get in deeper, you simply need to move forward and it will get plenty deep soon enough. Awakening the spiritual path is like this. We have but to remain humbly open to the first stirrings of our journey into God, and our journey, will, in God's good time, get plenty deep, soon enough.

Actually, it's more mysterious than that. Imagine a man and woman who, even in the beginning of their relationship, loved each other very much. Over the course of many years, their love, in the midst of countless ups and downs, continues to grow even deeper.

And yet it's also true that love itself did not get any deeper for all that. For from all eternity love is abysslike. From the very first moment love stirred within them, they were already in water over their heads. It is not that love got deeper, but rather that their awareness of and response to the abysslike nature of love grew deeper. This is how it always is with us spiritually. It isn't as if, in journeying forward, we move into to a deeper presence of God, for the presence of God is already infinitely deep. Rather, by moving forward we become ever more deeply aware of the abysslike presence of God in our lives.

To practice meditation as an act of religious faith is to open ourselves to the endlessly reassuring realization that our very being and the very being of everyone and everything around us is the generosity of God. For God is creating us in the present moment, loving us into being, such that our very presence in the present moment is the manifested presence of God. We meditate that we might awaken to this unitive mystery, not just in meditation, but in every moment of our lives.

This is how Christ lived. Whether he was seeing a child crawling up into his lap or a leper wanting to be healed; whether he was seeing a prostitute or his own mother; whether he was seeing the joy of a wedding feast or the sorrow of loved ones weeping at the burial of a loved one; whether he was seeing his own disciples or his executioners-he saw God. We meditate that we might learn to see through Christ's eyes the divine mystery of all that surrounds us.

. . .

The Gospels tell us of how Jesus abandoned himself to the Father's will in the big picture of his own unfolding life. But Jesus gave witness to a more finely tuned awareness of God's providential presence revealed to us in the way Jesus saw the flowers of the field or the birds of the air or a small child climbing up into his lap. In meditation we imitate Christ by abandoning ourselves to the providential flow of the sound of the clock chiming, just now, on the mantel. We abandon ourselves to the utterly trustworthy providential flow of the room in which we sit as it darkens at sunset. We sit abandoned to the providential flow of our own breathing, to the thought passing, just now, through our mind. We sit surrendered to the divinity flowing through the never-quite-this-way-before, never-quite-this-way-again immediacy of the moment just as it is.

As you sit given over to this simple intention of being present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting anything, you are likely to experience just how inept we human beings are at doing such a simple thing as being simply present in the present moment. To enter into meditation entails a willingness to recognize and accept just how restless our restless mind tends to be. Then, in this stance of humble acceptance, we are to simply reinstate the meditative stance of being present, open, and awake each time we realize we have drifted off yet again into the clinging and rejecting ways of our wandering mind.

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