Discerning the Presence of God

Most religious traditions throughout history advocate seeing God in everything that happens. Even more, these traditions recommend surrendering one’s self to the divine presence that is active in all creation. One must lose oneself to gain true Being.

What does that mean? Can it all be nothing but the collective fantasy of the vast majority of an infantile mankind since the beginning of human existence?

Most of us are limited by our senses and our ordinary thinking brain. We don’t see, hear, taste, smell, or touch “God”. When we think of God, we know that any image or concept of Him also has the built-in limitations of time and space bound language. We simply cannot conceive of anything that could be the cause all that is.

So where does this tradition of affirmimg the presence of God come from? All of us have in the background of our minds a yearning for a love that never fails, a life that never ends, a power to overcome suffering and setbacks. But this yearning hardly constitutes proof or presence of a divine entity. We have come to believe that our emotions are merely subjective, without meaning because they the epiphenomenon of the underlying reality of a brain.

Still, the fact that the aspirations of mankind are similar, and universal, must mean something more than mere wanting or wishing. For one thing, there IS a universal moral law that everyone acknowledges, and has acknowledged throught history and in all cultures. It EXISTS in the sense that every normal person is conscious of what is fair and good in a particular situation whether or not they can articulate it. Everyone’s conscience bothers them when they violate this law.

Also, throughout history certain individuals have had extraordinary experiences testifying to the presence of divinity, and the divine origin of things.The Vedic tradition, the Daoists, the Buddhists, the Hebrews, the Christians…all have individuals who have spoken of the extraordinary presence of the Divine. In Christianity, there is the belief that the nature and identity of this underlying Being existed on earth as an ordinary man, and also has existed throughout time and space, constanly revealing the nature of this Being.

In our day we are confronted with an avanlanche of near death experiences. People have returned after being pronounced dead and the tales of their experiences are tantalizingly similar. They all speak of a Reality beyond the physical that is more real than our everyday existence.

But what about those of us who have had no extraordinary experiences? All we have are ordinary minds and senses and enough to do on a daily basis just to maintain our ordinary lives.

Can we mortals experience the presence of God? Yes and no. Not really. Not directly. But there are clues. I would offer the thesis that if you trace the rise of Christianity from its origin until now, there has been, on the whole, an uplifting of the forgotten man that has progressed until now. That is to say, the effect of Christianity over the past 2,000 years has been positive and transformative. If we consider the fact that Christianity asserts the sanctity of the individual, can we entertain the hypothesis that there has been a divine hand in our history?  Is that because of the presence of God or only human aspiration?

If merely human aspiration is nothing but an epiphenomenon that has no real existence, what sustained those who have led holy, noble, heroic lives as contrasted with those who have led small, self-centered, hedonistic lives? Why would anyone sacrifrice comfort, security, reputation, pleasure, wealth, for the sake of love, truth, goodness or beauty? Are those things merely imagination, or are these imaginings signals from another world? A divine world?

I am suggesting here that the presence of God may or may not be sensed or felt as an immediate presence in way sunlight or heat or cold is felt. It is more like an inner call to growth. A plant, an animal, a human, grows, but that growth is not felt minute after minute. Sometimes, when we have recovered from an illness or an injury, we can  feel the healing power of nature.For the mosts part, however, growth and development happens slowly, almost undetectably. But it is real.

I have found it helpful to make a distinction between what is real,  Being, and what exists. Being and existence are not synonymous. As Heidegger wrote, Being is that which enables entities, beings, to be seen as beings. Something like light. Our ordinary everydayness allows a certain kind of light, and we experience certain beings and events within that light. Anything outside of that is thought to be nonexistent.Being, then, as a kind of light, doesn’t exist the way coffee, smartphones, or toilets exist. It can’t be tasted or touched. But it allows us to see, taste or touch beings, experience events. Another way of expressing it is that the eye can’t see itself, it only sees a world outside itself.

We can disregard this Being as not real and nonexistent, or we can reduce it to nothing but the material and energetic substrate of our existence. The overwhelming majority of mankind has regarde it as the secret Ruler of the world and the aource of our being in the human sense, our sould, mind, personality. Not only that, people have regarded this Being as having created this world as a training ground to teach us how to participate in a larger divine mission in the universe.

So when we read in the early Church Fathers about “the world”, they are referring to the 5 sense, time and space bound outwardly absorbed mind caught up and hypnotized by the seemingly obvious world of objects, events, and culture.  It is our absorption that precludes our awareness of the underlying presence of Being. I remember thinking that when the Red Sea parted to allow the Hebrews to escape captivity, many probably viewed it as a natural event, a fortunate coincidence. Anomalous events occurring in the natural world can always be reduced to natural causes somehow. Today we are seeing heroic attempts to reverse engineer the brain, the assumption being that mind is nothing but brain events. Soul is an epiphenomenon of a material substrate

My thesis is that God, or Being, doesn’t exist in the same way or manner that the world exists. He is the silent partner of our subjective life, He is the probability wave or whatever is behind quantum mechanics. His Being is the Source of our intuitions, inventions, creations, aspirations. Humans, and the universe, are contained within this Being. We are fish unaware of the water. Parmenides expressed some of this: reality is everything that is was or will be. There is no past present or future in that it is all contained in Being. His disciple Zeno offered his paradoxes that motion and time are not really real. We are thus contained in this Being as a possibility originating out of divine intention.

If we believe in our bones that we are nothing but an object among objects in a random universe, then we will continue to have absolute confirmation of that belief. If we believe that Being, the silent partner, is the source of our highest aspirations, and is secretly guiding us as individuals and as a species toward a universal consummation of goodness truth and beauty, a New Jerusalem that is “real, loving, and joyful”, then our practive of the presence of God will also confirm this beyond doubt.

To practice the presence of God is to humbly follow the path of abandonment to the divine agape of God and expressing that agape toward our fellow man, knowing that we will likely fail, stumble, and suffer for the most part. But our silent partner is there, caring for us with infinite care.

 

 

 

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