I was asked recently by a person who is, to the best of my knowledge, not connected to any kind of church community to describe my “experience of God.” It seems, after forty-two years in the official religion business, I should perhaps be able to respond in some way to such a question.

Here is part of my response:

moment, calling God? If so, how would you describe what you experienced?

I need to begin with a small caveat.

The question “how would you describe” your experience of God is a somewhat unfair question. The person attempting to respond to such a question is obviously doomed to failure.

How would you respond if asked to describe your experience of love, or human intimacy, or grief?

The deepest realities of human experience are by their nature inexpressible.

Probably the best language to use to speak about God is the language of silence.

So, the choice is to either never speak about things that are ethereal, numinous, eternal, transcendent, or to risk using inadequate language. And there seems to be something in the human psyche that, despite all the dangers, is drawn to attempt to speak about the most intangible/inexpressible experiences we sense we share, even if we are only able to do so in ways that are inadequate. Humans are diminished if they surrender the attempt to speak about the things that are deepest and most profound in life. If human interaction is reduced simply to material exchange, we are condemned to an existence that is less than an encounter with the full beautiful mystery that is Life.

So, assuming that the attempt to communicate about deep mystery is an important undertaking, what language shall we use?

I am drawn to terms such as energy, power, force, flow. But, while I feel these words express something true and helpful, they lack warmth and feeling. They are not words of intimacy and vulnerability. So, I am drawn back to the language of human feeling and relationship. Words like love, gentleness, compassion, and mercy bring a dimension to my expression of the nature of God that is missing if all I can say is, “may the Force be with you”. Perhaps this is why most spiritual traditions have resorted to parenting language in an attempt to speak of God. Human parenting, at its best, points towards something essential about the nature of our deepest experiences of life. Perhaps this is why Gurdjieff uses the term “Most All-Gracious Common Father”.

Sorry, that caveat wasn’t so small after all.

So, how would I describe what I am trying to speak of when I use the term God?

I would start with the term used by the anonymous author of the late 14c. English spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing who speaks of “stirring.” I have had, for as long as I can remember, an inner sense of “stirring.”

There has always been something within me that has been unable to settle with the material, time-bound, physical realm alone. Some unease with things just as they are on this horizontal plane has always stirred within me. There is no real reason for this “stirring”. Why shouldn’t I be content with life simply as it is? My life in this material realm has gone reasonably well. I was raised in a pleasant home in which my material needs were adequately met and my growth was generally supported. I have been privileged with good physical health. I have enjoyed a challenging and fulfilling career. My material needs have always been sufficiently met. I have had good personal relationships with people who seem to value my presence in their lives and who I value. And yet I have always sensed some lack. Nipping at the edges of life there has always been a longing, a yearning for something beyond the confines of what I could see, taste, hear and touch. I would call this longing, this sense that there must be something more, an experience of God.

Jesus pointed to the fact that there is in human beings a deeper dimension than the merely material when he asked, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (emphasis added) (Matthew 6:25). I believe this sense that there must be in life something “more than” materialism, ambition, the accolades of the world, or even the gift of human relationship, is a hint of the Divine that will be discernible to every human being who is willing to open and listen deeply to life.

In a more positive vein, I would say, I have an experience of God virtually every day. Something I would identify as an experience of God stirs deep within me when I:

  • look into the eyes of a child or hear our granddaughter say, “love you Grandpa”
  • look across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and see the snow-capped Olympic mountains etched against the horizon, or walk through the stillness of the rainforest
  • experience a tenderness and opening in corporate worship
  • am touched by a compassionate action performed for no obvious reason or evident gain, or perhaps, even on occasion feel moved myself to perform such an action
  • sense in conversation with another person a moment of deep truth and authenticity
  • am touched by the profound wonder and inexplicable mystery and grace of the beauty of my marriage and family relationships
  • sit in silence either alone or perhaps especially with others
  • find myself deeply moved by a piece of music, a work of art, a movie, or the words in a book
  • encounter sorrow or the great tragedy that surrounds so much of human experience
  • face the unavoidable reality and inevitability of death

I would call all of these stirrings “experiences of God.” They all share a sense of what I would call depth, steadiness, authenticity, purity, an inner knowingness. These experiences, at their best, all feel simply true. They are un-sticky, less encumbered by egoic agendas and neediness than most of my experiences in life. They are not clingy or demanding. They feel somehow perhaps self-authenticating; they are just undeniably real.

I do not believe these experiences are mere sentiment. I might sense this positive stirring within as much at moments of struggle and darkness as in moments of peace and light. I do not manufacture them; they are gifts. Just as I did not create my own life, I do not manufacture these experiences. I would characterize them as an encounter with the Divine.

I feel sure that every human being has been touched by this kind of experience. If we nurture and open to these experiences, they will grow and deepen. If we place ourselves in situations where these kinds of experiences are acknowledged, valued and supported, we will be more sensitive to them when they occur and aware of them more often.

I feel no need to convince anyone that these experiences are real. I do not need other people to have these same experiences. But I know they enrich my life and impart to me a fuller sense of what it means to be truly and deeply human.

Sorry, this is probably longer than anything you hoped for. But I think to even attempt to do justice to your question requires more than just a few words.

Take care,

Christopher