Seeking The One Who Has Already Found Us
Scripture says that God is endlessly involved in active, intimate love with us. According to the psalmist, God formed us in the womb and knows our every thought before we speak; we could fly to the uttermost parts of the universe, and God would still be with us. God spoke through Jeremiah: “I alone know the plans I have for you; plans for your well-being…”
If God is indeed so closely involved with our lives, more intimate than a mother with her unborn child, the idea of “seeking” God seems paradoxical. Yet Scripture affirms our search for the Holy One who is even closer to us than we are to ourselves. We are created, Paul says, for the very purpose of seeking God. “If you seek me with all your heart,” God says through Jeremiah, “I will let you find me.”
This paradox is echoed and refined in the words of the great contemplatives. They say that spiritual formation, the process of deepening our conscious, responsive relationship with God, is really the work of God within us. It is already happening; it has been since before we were born, and nothing will stop it. Yet it also involves our willingness, our consent. In the freedom of our choosing, we say Yes to a relationship that already exists, and we join in its process of deepening.
We think that no relationship could be more intimate than that of a mother and her unborn child. Yet, after birth, as the child’s consciousness and appreciation of love grows, the relationship indeed becomes richer, more full. In part, our relationship with God is like this. There is a way in which we are already in union with God and with one another, and God is totally, completely with us. Yet, simultaneously, we have to feel the separateness of our own being and freedom in order to participate more fully in love.
The most accurate appreciation of spiritual formation, then, is participative. We are not the authors of our life with God, nor are we pawns. We are participant co-creators. God will be active within us irrevocably, but we bring immeasurable beauty to that process when we affirm it, choose it, and actively join in it.
Spiritual formation, the deepening of love in life, is very different from learning a subject, mastering a task, or behaving in correct ways. It is not a matter of achievement or of “getting it right.” The spiritual life is a movement of love and light, and there is no success and no failure here.
So how do we go about searching for the One who is already with us? I am convinced that the most important thing we can do is simply to claim our care, to feel our desire. In the process of caring, we can seek some appreciation of how God is already happening within us. What has been going on all along, beneath our resistances and compulsions? What are the simple ways in which we most naturally experience love and truth and light? What is there already within us that we can most deeply affirm and appreciate? Then, with our eyes on this light instead of on our self-judged deficiencies and failures, we can follow God’s lead toward growing fulfillment of the two great commandments.
Probably we will need some quiet, some chance to pause in stillness to sense the deep, subtle stirrings of our own being and God’s call. Here some disciplines of relaxation and meditation may be of great help. Some ways of remembering God in the midst of busyness and some kind of mindfulness of the present moment are also likely to be necessary. So are some practices of charity and self-giving. Because we can learn such disciplines, and perhaps even become skillful with some of them, we may try to cling to them instead of to the radical, ungraspable grace upon which our spiritual lives really depend. When we do this, the disciplines that once helped us open to God will slowly become empty diversions; God will show us that true love comes from God alone.
It is God’s work, God’s labor of love that we join. It is God’s always-given gift to us that we open our hands to receive. It is God’s dance of creation in which we participate. And it is God’s already existing presence within us that we seek to realize more fully. For this, the most perfect participation is simply to feel our desire and offer our willingness to God. Sometimes, as we touch it, our desire is a happy love, joyous beyond all description. Sometimes it is exquisitely painful, a yearning so deep and empty that it seems almost unbearable. But always, to sense and know our desire is the most beautiful gift we can both receive and give. It is the ground of our loving participation with God, our mirror of God’s love for us.
From Gerald G. May, Summer 1990 Shalem News, Living in Love: Articles from Shalem News, 1978- 2008. Washington, DC: Shalem Institute, 2008.