I want to take a stab at describing what cannot adequately be described. As a contemplative and a musician, I have met, from time to time, with mystical experiences that beggar explanation. I do not have anything close to adequate categories or temporal understanding for such things. In seeking them out, I must simply share and hope for the best.
I will be doing so in a short series of posts under the general heading, “Glimpses.” A little unoriginal I admit. However, I trust that my faltering attempts at self-revelation will prompt your own journeys of inner discovery and that, together, we may find God’s deep reservoir of grace.
At the foundation of Christian spirituality (and others) is the very basic principle of awakening or awareness. It comes in many different packages, under numerous ideologies, representative of a host of approaches, all with practices that lend themselves to one’s emerging spiritual life.
To become aware is to wake from some form of slumber, sleep or sloth. One of the mysteries of spiritual awareness is that one does not awaken naturally. We are prodded awake by the loving work of God upon the sleeping soul. It requires this nudge from God upon our shoulder before any meaningful process of receptivity and relationship can occur. In order for us to embrace this work, basically to ‘awake to our awakening’, we must intuit God’s whisper, speaking grace into the spiritual ear of our understanding.
I do not speak so much of the prophetic proclamation to “arise, shine; for your light has come.” No, before we can be so attuned to the prophet’s voice calling us to faithfulness and righteousness, we must first hear the voice of the Lover calling us to succumb to this wooing for which our only response can be, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
As comforting and romantic as that sounds, however, upon awakening to the first primal strains of the song of God, there comes a dissonance amidst the lilting notes. We awaken to beauty and begin to see that for which we have always yearned but of which we were unaware; blind. This, however, can often be a fearful and groggy experience. Cobwebs invade our minds unaccustomed to such sharpness of color. Ears that have been plugged up suddenly pop as our inner altitude changes. It is as disorienting as it is invigorating.
I remember places, glimpses into…something; an awareness that hints at a proximity to the indefinable, numinous presence of God. These are never easy things to describe, but there is a delight in the attempt for, in so doing, I am taken back to some of those places. For me, it was often some old, stone church or monastery; most often at night, alone.
Yet, not alone.
As I have since come to believe, they were, as the Celts called them, thin places where a barely perceptible sheath surrounds the holy otherness of God and where comes a mystical awareness of God so immanent that one feels she can literally smell God’s breath, touch God’s skin. These experiences have often made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Ironically, they used to happen often when I was a boy, long before I had any faith lexicon or tidy systematic theology with which to scrub them up and describe them away. I recall one particular time as I lay on our living room floor. I was probably eight or nine years old and, as I did every year, was watching the first snowfall of winter. Enormous frozen flakes dove in random, disciplined lines, dancing past the streetlight that stood outside our home. The glistening goodness provided a panacea against which the world was complete and all was one, if only for a time. In those moments, gilded and encased in childhood wonder, I became curiously aware of a haunting peace that arrested my sensibilities and held me spellbound in what I can only describe as ‘rightness.’ The cosmos and I were one. God, as I now understand God, was lying beside me on the living room floor that night, whispering wordless words to me, convincing me of my place in it all, be it ever so miniscule.
This is a story best left unfinished…
This week, consider quietly and prayerfully, the ways in which you may have heard these awakening whispers of God.
Journal them. How did they occur? Under what circumstances? What, if anything, changed in you as a result?
What are ways you may be invited by God to enter even more deeply into these places of awakening and transformation? Agree, humbly and with resolve, to enter into them with the God of grace to guide you.
Feel free to share what you and God have been up to in your journey together.
2 thoughts on “Glimpses, part I: awakening to the indescribable”
Rob, I really appreciate what you are doing here. Thank you.
The story you shared about the peacefulness of a snow fall sparked a memory in me. Yes, I will enter into the wispering of wordless words mystery that you asked of me this week.
Jenny, I enter into this series of posts with some trepidation since it is well beyond my ken and my ability to articulate. People will have to be patient with me as I wrestle through it!