Telling people that you have had a series of mystical experiences of God in this day and age can run you the risk of seeming, well, unhinged. If that is too strong a claim, then let’s say you are considered at the very least to be extremely gullible or naïve. People wait for you to grow out of it. My own experiences started as young as 6 but even then, even before I had heard proofs against the existence of God, or understood how powerful the value of rationality is held in our culture (and mostly, that is a good thing), even then I knew not to tell anybody. On the one hand, the mystical experiences have been a great blessing, for I have something I can turn to or draw from as I try to live out and express my faith.
On the other hand, they are not something I like to share because the minute the words leave my lips I know, and rightly so, that I am open to suspicious inquiry and deconstruction. It is a bit like someone asking you to prove that you are actually in love with someone, someone they think is not suitable for you, and you stumble to sound convincing and seal off all potential arguments, failing terribly in the process.
But I think people’s suspicion about mystical experiences really masks a deeper concern, and that concern is that for many of us, we witness an absence of God in the world. If you are not lucky enough to have a conversation moment, if a near death or hitting rock bottom doesn’t happen to you that then results in a holy kind of transformation, if frankly nothing out of the ordinary occurs at all but instead you witness misery, poverty, disease, injustice, greed, hate, what evidence do you have for God in the world?
Writer, mystic and cancer patient Christian Wiman says in his recent book, My Bright Abyss, that his life did not contain a big mystical experience that left him with certainty about God’s existence. He notes” …there was no white light, no ministering or avenging angel that tore my life in two: rather it seemed as if the tiniest seed of belief had finally flowered in me or more accurately, as if I had happened upon a rare flower in the desert and had known, though I was just discovering it, that it had been blooming impossibly year after parched year in me, surviving all the seasons of my unbelief.” Christian wrestles all his life with both belief and unbelief in God, and sometimes just plain old apathy about God, less a rejection of God’s reality in the world but just not bothering to think about it.
This apathy or anger seems reasonable, it makes sense to me that people give up looking, for what most people experience is the absence of God. They look around the world and see the injustice and the suffering, they feel the grind of their own life, or maybe experience a tragedy, and they decide that God wasn’t there, isn’t here. It seems entirely rational: we can’t seem to get God to act when we want God to act, so confident we are that we will know what that looks like, and so therefore, God must not exist. How can we believe, really? Where is the evidence for us?
Part of the issue is we have long been wrestling with an idea of God that makes God the grand puppet master, the sage in the clouds, the great clock maker, instead of a God in and beyond and between all things. And because of this, when things go wrong, we feel the gap between what we want the world to be like and what it can be like. We fail to see the shape of the waves and the winds of the Holy moving through the world because, and rightly so, we see how much is wrong with it. So much suffering.
In this respect, we need poetry and music and art, for those are tools that allow us to open spaces between our fine logical minds, and our mystical souls without selling either short. And this is likely why much of scripture uses story, song and poetry. The psalm we read today is not a logic proof on the existence of God, but rather a call for us to recognize the reality of God being woven into all facet of existence. Is if we are an audience who looks to the west instead of the east for the rising of the sun, the psalm helps return our gaze to the vast scope of life and see how God is moving within it.
The whole psalm is a joyous song about God’s intimate and sustaining involvement in the world. In the psalm, the singer celebrates both the awesome and the ordinary and places God at the centre of creation. To you all flesh shall come states the singer, removing all barriers between peoples, between classes and races and gender, and truly between all creation, all life. God is both creating and sustaining in the psalm: God clothes our landscape with beauty, God waters the earth with rivers and seas, grain grows and the food that is grown is not just enough but abundant. One of the many things we might notice in this psalm though is that God is shaping the landscape as She both embodies and inhabits it. God changes the ridges of the land, softening it. He clothes the hills with flowers and flocks of sheep, and quiets the roaring anger and disagreement of the peoples who travel and live in the land. God is literally everywhere in this psalm and as you read or listen to it, it becomes really tough to separate the Holy from the world. They are messy in their intimacy. Instead of looking for God as an agent that behaves in a specific way, the psalmist goes beyond looking for God outside of the world, but instead sees the holy woven into the very fabric of existence. It is as if God is shaping every moment, constantly creating and moving, emerging and evolving. God is not static, not fixed and not easy to pin and down and contain and this is why we experience both the presence and absence of God. Our lives and minds struggle to move with the speed of the Holy, our egos want to know the whole picture but we don’t.
When you look at the landscape of your own life, do you see God shaping it? When we remove the idea of God dispensing our versions of good things, and God’s absence arriving when bad things happen, what do you notice about the landscape of your life and how God may have shaped it? When we focus more on God as a force in our lives, it allows us to become aware of the subtle ways of God attempting to shape how we see the world and how we might behave. We might become attune to how we are being pushed in moments of selfishness to try to love someone unconditionally. Or how in a health crisis there may be profound moments of gratitude or connection. But we can also pay attention to the really bad stuff: when we read stories about Syria, or the final moments of an Aboriginal teen’s life before they committed suicide: that God’s absence is showing up because this is not the way of God, this is not the way the world should be, this is not God’s dream. The gap then we feel is real, the pain is real and it is because we can feel God’s luring forth of something else. When we experience love and moments of joy, or what the yoga instructors at Kits call “flow”, then we feel God’s shaping of the landscape of our lives more easily.
When we feel our well of faith is dry, barren, or too small to hold the suffering it is often because God’s absence is being felt not because God is gone, but because we see how far from the mark this world can be from what it should be. We fail to notice the breeze lifting the tears off our cheeks and instead pushing us to take a step forward. So, let us turn to the world then, to look for God in the landscape of all life, our own and well beyond our own. The Holy is there, moving all life. Amen.