Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thirsting For The Immediacy Of God

Gerald G. May, M.D. (1940-2005), practiced medicine and psychiatry for twenty-five years before becoming a senior fellow in contemplative theology and psychology at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Bethesda, Maryland. He was the author of many books and articles blending spirituality and psychology, including Addiction and Grace, Care of Mind/Care of Spirit, Will and Spirit, and The Dark Night of the Soul.

Currently I am re-reading May's last book, called "The Wisdom of Wilderness," where he describes his encounters with God in the wilderness during a five year period in his life. The name for God that comes to him is "The Power of the Slowing," and to him, it had a distinct feminine quality.  I highly recommend this book for those on a contemplative spiritual journey. 

"From the time I was five or six until I became a teenager, Jesus - or, rather, my image of Jesus - was my way of reconnecting. Sunday school had presented Jesus as someone who was actually around somewhere in our lives, hidden from sight but very involved, loving children and animals and all creation. I prayed to him often, had fantasies of walking and talking with him, took him into my little heart as best I could. But as young as I was, I still realized that my contact with Jesus was pretty much a result of my own interpretations. And he never actually showed up. My physical eyes never saw what the eyes of my imagination did: a real Jesus walking, smiling across a meadow toward me. I never felt the physical touch of his arm around my shoulder. I wanted that. I wanted to be reconnected, not just through images and beliefs but sensibly, palpably. I wanted direct experience.

Before the encounter with the Power of the Slowing, I had many experiences of what I would call Divine Presence, but they were always indirect, what the theologians call mediated. I felt the Great Mystery through the birth of my children, through the love of my wife and family and friends, through the beauty of sunsets and music. I sensed grace abounding in people: in their healing, growing, choosing love, finding their ways. I had more of a sense of the goodness of things than any man deserves, and yet I wasn't satisfied.

To my mind, all these experiences were evidences of the Divine Presence, signs of grace, results of God's goodness, all once removed from their Source. The experiences were encouraging and inspiring, but not fulfilling. They all carried the message that reconnection is possible, but they did not actually connect me. They tantalized, teased, even tortured me by fanning the flames of my longing for direct encounter. Many around me said that I would be satisfied with what I had, for I had been given so much. But I could not help my desire. I could not make peace with seeing through a glass darkly when I yearned for face-to-face Presence. My cup overflowed with mediated experience, yet I thirsted for the immediate.

So it was that She showed up. She whispered, beckoned, called from the mountain forest that was to be the home of my encounter with Her, demanding that I come alone and vulnerable. She wanted me willing and wild enough to meet Her in Her wildness. I was in need of healing and She had so much to teach me, so many places to guide me, so many gifts to give me. But most of all She wanted what I wanted: for me to sense Her Presence directly. She wanted me to feel Her touch on an in my body as palpably as I felt the hard ground on my bare knees or the tree bark on my back or the sting of the yellow jacket beneath my shoulder blades. She wanted me to feel Her hand stilling my muscles, Her Power in my belly, Her guiding Wisdom in my heart. That is why She came.

~ Gerald G. May "The Wisdom of Wilderness"