© Wojciech Nowak SJ
Step 1 - Desires
Conscious life begins with establishing contact with oneself and with reality. What do I really want? What am I searching for? The first sentence pronounced by Jesus and quoted in the Gospel of John reads: "What are you looking for?" In other words, Jesus begins the dialogue with man with a self-awareness test: "If you want to establish a relationship with me, if you want to be my disciple, examine your heart first and answer the question: What do you want out of life?" The desires that I discover inside myself are a kind of GPS that stimulates me to look for the fullness of life, what we commonly call happiness or fulfilment. These desires also become questions. Who am I? What is my deepest identity? What is the purpose and meaning of my life? Does my life end when I die? What lies behind the secret of the existence of the Universe, which is 13.4 billion years old, and what lies behind the secret of my existence in that Universe? My very existence is a question and life itself asks me some questions from which I cannot escape. Becoming aware of these questions/desires and starting to seek answers to them/seek fulfilment is the beginning of an authentic life.
Stay seated for 15 minutes, maybe even half an hour. Calm down. Make contact with yourself and your inner SELF and ask yourself: What do I want deep in my heart? What do I want out of life? What am I looking for? Feel, discover these desires in yourself. Also hear this question: What is life asking from me today?
All the desires we find in ourselves can be reduced to two basic ones. We want to enjoy life to the full, life free from suffering that never ends - that is life free from death. We also want to be loved with selfless and unconditional love. In short: we want to love and be loved. We want to be accepted and confirmed in our uniqueness only by the fact that we exist. We want to hear: "It's good that you exist – stay well and live a long/good/full life!" We are looking for confirmation and justification for our existence. Where do I come from? Why and what am I living for? We also want to love, be important to someone, contribute to the lives of others, support their development. We want to go through life and live it with others. "No Man Is an Island" is the title of one of Thomas Merton's books. Man is a relational being. Our life has emerged from the relationship and is expressed in relationships. Focusing exclusively on yourself is a dead end that leads to radical loneliness - the "breath of death". In short: we want to love and be loved.
The search for the source of existence and love, that is the meaning of life - and even before that - the search for justification/"grounds" for one’s own coming to this world - is the way to find God. Not only do we want to live but we also want to discover/ get to know "why to live" and "what to live for"?
Canadian theologian, Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan defines religious experience as follows: "Religious experience at its roots is experience of an unconditional and unrestricted being in love. But what we are in love with remains something that we have to find out."
No-one gave life to himself, and no-one invited himself to this world. Our parents only gave us life but they aren't its authors. Our mothers didn't direct our biological and psychological development when they were carrying us for nine months in their wombs. They only surrounded the miracle of life with love, to which life they opened in their parental/marital relationship. Since the dawn of my existence I have been a separate entity. The same genetic combination as each of us forms has never appeared in the universe before and will never happen again, even from the same parents. I am UNIQUE. There is no copy of myself. On the twenty-first day of my conception, my heart began to beat and it is beating continuously until now. Therefore, my life is a GIFT. Every day, every morning, every second I constantly find myself living, I receive a gift of life. I don't carry the source of life inside me, it beats outside of me. I don't even have power over a single heartbeat. What lies behind the secret of my existence?
Sit down again and calm down (spend at least 15 minutes on this exercise). Listen attentively to your breath. Feel your heartbeat. Feel the warmth of your body and experience the sensations that come from it. Try to "touch", "taste" LIFE that is constantly flowing in you, which is constantly coming to you, which is given to/"poured" into you. Some MYSTERIOUS POWER wants you to exist.
I assume that there are at least a few people who wish you well, who care about you. If not, I trust that you have met at least one person in your life for whom you were important, who enjoyed your presence, who supported you somehow. Man can mediate love but he is not LOVE himself. He himself needs love, just like a plant needs sun and water or like a car needs fuel. None of us is perfect in giving love. Everyone has experienced or is experiencing some deficits in offering love or in being loved. We have our weaknesses, we get tired, we are often clumsy. Is there anyone who can satisfy our need for love (being loved) to the end? Someone who never gets tired of loving us or gets disappointed with us? Someone who can bear our weaknesses, who helps us rise when we fall down? Someone who doesn't let us doubt ourselves and in the sense of life?
If there were no fulfilment of our desires, if there were no answers to the questions posed to us by life and the fact of our existence, we would be tragic human beings. We discover in ourselves a desire to live, love and have a meaning, as well as a desire for ... beauty, goodness and justice. Would an attempt to search for their fulfilment inevitably end in failure? Life would be absurd then. Or ... is it otherwise?
Step 2 – God?
If there is a God, … who is He? What would this MYSTERIOUS REALITY be, which in many modern languages we describe with a word consisting of only three letters: GOD (Gud (Danish/Norwegian), Dio (Italian), Бог (Russian/Serbian)). How does it even happen that the word "god" exists in our languages and we can reflect on this reality? Would we talk and think about something that doesn't exist and that does not concern us in any way? We may also ask differently: what conditions would this MYSTERIOUS REALITY have to fulfil so that we could call it god?
Referring to Step One, God would appear as the one from whom our existence emerges and who arouses in us desires (spiritual "GPS") which He Himself fulfils. Summing up his life, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote:
"You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You" (Confessions)
God would also be the Cause and Principle of the existence of the Universe. The cause, i.e. the source from which we and the world originate. And the principle - the power that keeps the world (and us) in existence. He would be the one behind the laws of physics, chemistry and biology in the Universe.
This is how Paul the Apostle spoke about God to Athenians on the Areopagus: "And indeed he is not far from any of us. Since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist" (Acts 17,17-28).
You created my inmost self,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
For so many marvels I thank you; wonder am I,
and all your works are wonders.
You knew me through and through,
my being held no secrets from you,
when I was being formed in secret,
textured in the depths of the earth. (Ps. 139,13-15)
And in the Letter to the Colossians Paul would write about Christ-God: "He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things: in heaven and on earth, everything visible and everything invisible (…). All things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together." (Col 1,15-17)
In turn, John the Apostle begins the Gospel in such a way: "In the beginning was the Word (Greek: Logos): the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it." (J 1,1-5).
So if there is a god, He is the Creator of the Universe. He lies behind the secret of the existence of reality and each of us. Not only does He give life but He is also the essence-principle of life. In short: God is LIFE.
What else could we say about Him? If He is a god, He is definitely infinitely superior to us by Intelligence-Wisdom and unlimited Power.
In the Letter to the Romans, this is how St. Paul wrote about Him:
"How rich and deep are the wisdom and the knowledge of God! We cannot reach to the root of his decisions or his ways. Who has ever known the mind of the Lord? Who has ever been his adviser? Who has given anything to him, so that his presents come only as a debt returned? Everything there comes from him and is caused by him and exists for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen" (Rom. 11,33-36).
God as the Mind embracing everything, being simultaneously the First Cause and the Supreme Being.
If the "reality" we think about was to be a god, He would also have to be the Truth ("Light"), Goodness, Beauty and Harmony which we can observe/contemplate on earth (in nature) and in space, as well as in the lives of some people who submit to Him.
We read in the Book of Wisdom: "Since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author" (Wis 13,5).
"It is God who, for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act." (Phil. 2,13)
One of the motives for which people begin to practice meditation is the search for peace and integration. Sometimes we experience confusion, we make bad choices, we make mistakes, we hurt others and ourselves. We suffer as a result of not coping with ourselves, with relationships and with life. Consequently, we need forgiveness and healing. We need reconciliation not only with others but also with ourselves. God would not only "justify" our existence (answering the question "Why do I exist?") but He would also raise us, renew our life, bring us back to our true selves.
God would be the one who frees us from the burden and guilt (forgiveness) and restores us to relationships with others, with the world and with ourselves (reconciliation). So God would appear as a RESCUER, LIBERATOR and DOCTOR. He would be the one who brings us peace that we cannot find in ourselves. Peace is both a gift and a fruit of forgiveness-reconciliation.
In Step One we realized that in addition to life we need love that justifies and confirms our existence. What would life be without love? If there is a God who responds to our desires, He must also be, and perhaps above all, LOVE - kind, compassionate PRESENCE that supports us.
Only "someone" (a person) can love. Love is not instinct, it is not drive, it is not shapeless energy. Love is a personal relationship - it is an act of will, commitment, compassion and responsibility. If there is a God, then He must be a PERSON. And a person is a separate existence ("YOU"), that is self-awareness, intelligence and free will. Therefore, contact with God would be a personal relationship - a meeting of two self-awarenesses, two intelligences, and two freedoms-loves. Love understood as reaching out to the other and a gift of oneself, being "with" and "for" the other.
And an important addition about "god". For "someone" to be eligible to be a god, he must be a SPIRIT. He is invisible but real. Just as real and possible to experience are life, love or radiation, although they remain invisible as such. This is well reflected in the metaphor of God as light - light enables seeing but remains invisible itself. Sometimes we see only sources of light.
In a conversation with a woman of Samaria, Jesus said: "But the hour is coming -- indeed is already here -- when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father seeks. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.»." (J 4,23-24).
Yahweh, you examine me and know me,
you know when I sit, when I rise,
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You watch when I walk or lie down,
you know every detail of my conduct. (Ps. 139,1-3)
Therefore, God would be a spirit embracing the entire Universe, and at the same time penetrating it, present everywhere. At the same time, He would be someone greater than this world, someone above the world - the Supreme Being, transcendent.
We have spoken so far about a hypothesis of God as an ANSWER to our deepest desires. We tried to describe it in human language, in philosophical terms. If there is a God, then ... every person must follow a personal path to meet Him and get to know Him.
"At the outset, the word god is simply three letters, having reference to that which is unknown, possibly unknowable and there stretches before us a long search during which this elusive concept develops from a meaningless cliché to the God who has called us by name and made us a people for himself" (Peter G. van Breemen, Called by Name).
The question arises whether this God has made Himself known in the history of mankind, whether He has revealed Himself, whether He has let man experience Himself? In Step Two, it is no coincidence that quotes from the Bible appeared because the Holy Scriptures are a human record of a meeting with God. Both the Scriptures is a fact and a group of people who have claimed for over three thousand years to meet God and still have contact with Him. Both getting to know the Scriptures and contact with this community (believers in God, the Church) can help us in a personal meeting and getting to know God, in establishing the "I - YOU" relationship with Him.
God of our ancestors, Lord of mercy,
who by your word have made the universe,
and in your wisdom have fitted human beings,
to rule the creatures that you have made,
to govern the world in holiness and saving justice
and in honesty of soul to dispense fair judgement,
grant me Wisdom, consort of your throne,
and do not reject me from the number of your children.
For I am your servant, son of your serving maid,
a feeble man, with little time to live,
with small understanding of justice and the laws.
Indeed, were anyone perfect among the sons of men,
if he lacked the Wisdom that comes from you, he would still count for nothing. (Wis 9,1-6)
With you is Wisdom, she who knows your works,
she who was present when you made the world;
she understands what is pleasing in your eyes
and what agrees with your commandments.
Despatch her from the holy heavens,
send her forth from your throne of glory
to help me and to toil with me
and to toil with me and teach me what is pleasing to you;
since she knows and understands everything
she will guide me prudently in my actions
and will protect me with her glory. (Wis 9,9-11)
To be continued