“In the first place it should be known that if a person is seeking God, the Beloved is seeking the person much more.”
- St John of the Cross
In the second week of the Carmelite course I am doing, we focus on the mystic, St John of the Cross, his profound words and the insight we can gain from them. How powerful are these words and how thought provoking and comforting - that our desire for connection is met more than even half way. If we make an effort to step forward and open our hearts to God, we will be rewarded with love. The whole of St John’s teaching is directed towards helping one respond to God’s initiative and to “make space for God’s gift of Himself in prayer.” All we really need for this deep spiritual connection is a willing heart.
I know I am not alone in having a desire to connect with God, a restless yearning for it, and yet at times to feel it is beyond my grasp - that life just gets in the way. To borrow a zen idea - we cannot fill a cup that is already full. If our cups/our lives are full with the wrong things, it is impossible to adapt new positive habits or have time for spiritual connection. We must first eliminate unnecessary distractions in order to make time for a spiritual life. St John reflects on the fact that, in order to make greater space in our lives for God, it is necessary to let go of some of the activities and thoughts that normally pre-occupy us, pulling our minds and hearts away from God.
This past week I also read a few articles by the minister from St Mathew’s Bayswater on his daily spiritual routine and how he focuses on trying to still his mind in order to know God. It was a beautifully written and very honest account of some of his own mental challenges during his practice. Similarly on a Bible Plan I have been doing on the You Version app, there were a lot of self-reflection questions about what gets in the way of connecting with God. Certain points stood out for me there, namely that we think of God as being silent, when in fact God is never silent. This got me thinking about the many ways in which God speaks to us. God can be heard when we silence our busy minds, when we take the time to stop and listen. I find making time to do Yoga and meditate, helps me connect with my spirituality, inner self and ultimately with God. When I am distracted by mundane chores, daily responsibilities or social media, I feel removed from God. But it is not God that has gone, it is me. I also find I connect with God when I make time to engage with the magic of life - to listen to music, walk outside in nature, interact with a child or animal. God can be heard in a baby’s laugh; the sound of the wind in the trees or crashing waves on the shore. God is in both bird song and thunder, church bells ringing and moving traffic. When we slow things down though, it becomes easier to sense God in the quiet whispers of the day, our heart beat, or the sound of our breath. The Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr talks of how the sound of our breath, makes the sound Yahweh, so that from the moment we are born we are repeating God’s sacred name. A similar thought has existed in Yoga for centuries - linking breath with the vital essence of all life and the name of God. The Hindu mantra Soham (I am That) is also considered a natural mantra to control one’s breathing and flows with the inhalation So and exhalation Ham, asserting both our existence and Gods, and the connection between us.
No matter what our religion, or belief system, we all breathe and we all need the breath to live. Never has that been so relevant as now, in a time of a virus that infects our respiratory system. When seeking the presence of God, start with that - your breath. Observe yourself breathing simple, deep breaths in and out, over and over again. Consider how the breath links you to all other life on the planet - focus on the trees, focus on your respiratory system; focus on the name of God. With eyes closed, and a still mind focused on the breath, you won’t need to go far before you find your Beloved, reaching out to you.