With you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light – Psalm 36:9
Everyone is unique. We all have distinctive personalities, diverse gifts, different values, particular beliefs – even among people who hold the same spiritual traditions.
As a result of our diversity the inward call – that call or encounter with God that leads to inner transformation that opens us to the living mystery of God – will manifest in peoples’ lives in a multitude of different ways. This inward call is very often referred to as the contemplative call. Throughout Christian history, men and women who have lived consciously immersed in the love of God have experienced this transformation in so many ways. The circumstances that shape an individual’s journey along the inward path to God has both been unique and singular.
I have come to appreciate more fully that an encounter with God (some call this a spiritual awakening), transforms our lives, not for a moment, but changed forever. As men and women of God encounter God personally they undergo a life-transforming change.
As I try to unpack this experience available to all Christian believers for my own spiritual growth and desire to become closer to God, I would ask you to consider how we each see something new or unusual that may trigger in our hearts a new dimension of awareness, a new unfolding of consciousness, a new desire to become more intimate with God.
Extraordinary, life-changing encounters with God happen. And yet, they can represent a tremendous distraction for the person who initially set out with only a deep longing within. If the hole in our hearts is shaped like God, nothing else – not even an encounter with God – will satisfy us. The contemplative call is a call to intimacy with God, not a call entertained by spiritual experiences. This is not to dismiss our longing but rather to be careful to point it in the right direction. To humbly long for God and God alone – not even an “experience” of God will take us off this inward path towards God.
An encounter or awakening with God is a disturbance of the equilibrium of self which results in a shifting within our consciousness at different levels within our being. It could be described as “un-selfing”, if such a word exists. I would explain this as a shift within our focus from our owns selves to a new orientation towards God. Recognising the contemplative call means taking out spotlight off ourselves and training it on God.
But for each the disturbance is different. Some walk a simple path, encountering the miraculous in the ordinary. Others may have a “suddenly” experience with God. And then for the contemplatives comes the paradox. While an encounter with God is the most special thing in the world. At the same time, it is nothing special at all. It will however initiate us each into a deeper more intense world where we come to realise that we have always been near to God, even in the midst of suffering – we had just never bothered to notice.
So, what makes this encounter meaningful is not what happens. Rather, it is the opening of our hearts and minds to previously unseen depth of the mystery of God, summed up as the mystery of Divine love. So, if you are reading this and (like me) are starting to see a few grey hairs, don’t think for a moment it’s too late for an encounter. This is where the contemplative call becomes so awe inspiring – well it has for me. The mystery of God’s Divine love has ushered me into a startling new world. Yes, I still continue to walk the simple path of contemplation, but I let it be my inward path, one where I continually seek God. Let your path to God be your path of continually seeking God along the way.
When I look back at the saints and mystics who had these wonderful encounters or awakenings with God, I soon discovered that they all had years of spiritual longing before their moment of transformation came. People like Thomas Merton, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila had been preparing their hearts and souls for the transforming moment, literally years beforehand. They were people of faith, people of prayer. They had made themselves tender and receptive, willing to be able to yield to the call. For me this time of preparation is possibly more important than the moment of spiritual awakening. As I have moved to a more contemplative lifestyle, it has brought an unhurried, unique blessings of becoming closer to and more intimate with God. For this I can place no value.
An encounter with God changes everything. Imagine what a difference it could make in your life. It will cause a disturbance in your equilibrium.