In June of 1999 I went to seminary because I wanted to understand God fully, beyond any particular denomination. The degree I sought was a Master’s in Spiritual Direction. As I have written before (posting #10), the idea to pursue seminary came to me upon waking during a depressing time shortly after moving to a new town where I could find no work as an artist to teach or exhibit. That morning what I call an “angel message” (God’s thoughts passing to us) woke me with the clear command to find a particular book I’d purchased at a retreat some years earlier when living in another state.
The book is entitled Exploring Spiritual Direction: An Essay on Christian Friendship by Alan Jones. Though we had just moved, and I had no idea where that book might be in our new home, I found it almost instantly. I’d read the book years ago, but the preface’s title hit me that morning as if for the first time: “The Art of Arts.” The author explains that spiritual direction is the art of arts.
How remarkable! Here was the art I really sought! Led to see that spiritual growth is art–the greatest art of all–I saw that aiming to understand God, to rely on God, to love as God would have us do, was my real priority. Any worry and depression evaporated as I devoured this little book. And before the week was out I felt compelled to apply to General Theological Seminary in New York City, just an hour from our new home. Seminary turned out to be an extraordinary experience, one that I likely would not have had had we not moved. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Why is knowing God an art? How do we know God? Who is God? Why does it matter if we know God or not? Such questions swirl in the mind of one impelled to understand life, truth, love, reality, and the God who made all that is.
After seminary, and several intensive years of writing, I published a 500+ page autobiography in 2013, Hiraeth: Beyond My Father’s House: A Woman’s Journey Home which better explains my journey into such questions. The biography bares truthfully all I’d lived up to that point. But as one’s life continues, questions and answers continue. We are always learning. In fact, I honestly believe that is why we live: to learn. And learning never stops. So I still question, still search for answers, grasping ahas as they come, applying them to daily experience.
For one asking questions about God, I suggest first digging more deeply into the religion in which one was raised (as religious scholar Houston Smith once advised me in a seminar). If that does not fully satisfy, then explore any and every religion, philosophy, and belief system that interests you. Leave no stone unturned. Ask each system the same questions until several offer you the clarity you seek. Then study those thoroughly. You may find a community of similar seekers that will support and enrich your journey.
If not, no worries. God is the teacher and always with you. Read sacred texts, such as the Psalms or Sermon on the Mount or the Upanishads or Buddhist teachings or whatever speaks to you. Use concordances and dictionaries to enhance your study. Read many experienced, scholarly, and wise authors. Write notes. Keep files of significant quotations, articles, thoughts, etc. Explore whatever and whomever crosses your God-path. I discovered Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) and Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) to be especially inspiring. It was Julian who said ” As truly as God is our Father so truly is God our Mother.” I also was drawn to Christ Jesus, Augustine, Francisco de Osuna, Henri Nouwen, the Dali Lama, Evelyn Underhill, Mary Baker Eddy, JB Phillips, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, and many more. You will find those who speak especially to you. Look for the ring of truth. Don’t be fooled. Prove what works.
For me, proof or demonstration of God’s presence in our ordinary daily life is of extreme importance. This includes healing, what some call miracles–but they are not miracles because normal to God, therefore normal for God’s image and likeness; such occurrences should be seen as natural, expected outcomes of following and reflecting God’s truth.
There are more than 100 “miracles,” demonstrations, healings, in both old and new testaments of the Bible. Perhaps this is a clue to God’s power and presence? Perhaps this indicates what we ought to experience? As Christ Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do;” (John 14: 12). And perhaps they offer reason to trust God. They indicate God’s caring presence in the lives of men, women, and children. As we sincerely work to know God better as our Father/Mother, the One Mind, the infinite Love accessible to us all, we can apply this understanding in our daily living. When we grasp spiritual reality, even in part, it takes us beyond a mere mortal sense of things, allows us to commune regularly with God who in turn guides us.
No posting on a website can do justice to the topic of knowing God! But hopefully this post hints at a direction each one of us might take to find freedom from fear, disease, or trouble of any kind. Answers to our most significant questions are out there if we search for them. God is the light capable of piercing whatever darkness we face.
About the artwork: Finished the end of July, 2021, Pemaquid Sunset captures the beauty of light against dark as well as the spiritual essence of a Maine sunset. It is framed in a dark mat with a golden frame–a lovely piece I hung for the first time yesterday.