Surprise! Seeking to know God better is paying off already.
As soon as I opened myself more fully to the mystical path of knowing God–looking for what I can learn about God through intuition and experience–new insights and deeper convictions started emerging. Now, it´s not as if I´m starting from scratch. I can draw on the Bible for a list of God´s attributes and as a way to evaluate the ideas that pop into my head. What´s new is that I´m asking God to teach me through what happens in the course of my life–on pilgrimage and in normal everyday life. I´m praying for a gut level assurance of truth that grounds and moves me more powerfully than just intellectual knowledge.
I don’t expect to suddenly discover new qualities of God that no one ever thought of before. Rather, I´m looking at what I experience through a theological lens. I´m asking, what do my thoughts, feelings, observations, realizations, changes, lack of changes, interactions with others, sights, smells, tastes, and every other dimension of my human experience suggest to me about God?
For example, on one long, solitary stretch of El Camino, about three and half weeks into the pilgrimage, I asked God to show me something about Father, Son or Holy Spirit through what I had experienced so far. Still feeling a bit skeptical of the mystical process, I didn’t expect to come up with much. What could I know about God, the Father, from a 500 mile walk across northern Spain? What could I learn about Jesus the Christ that I didn’t already know from studying the Bible? Knowing the Holy Spirit better seemed more likely, but my list of questions seemed to be growing longer, not shorter.
However, I have been surprised by how much I am learning.
Take God, the Father. As I contemplated God as loving parent, I felt led through a reflective process that helped me to see God in a new light, with greater appreciation and inspiration.
My mind immediately went to my experience with my sons. For nearly a month, I had been trying to use this unique pilgrimage opportunity to become a better father. I wasn’t working off of a checklist of do´s and don’ts, but was trying to stay engaged and to pay attention to what my kids needed from me and to what I most had to offer them. I didn’t want to call attention to what I was doing. I just want to be the best dad I could be.
For example, I consciously tried to…
- be a good leader, from everything to trip planning to facilitating conflict resolution
- offer spiritual input and guidance
- be transparent
- serve them and not just look out for my own interests first
- love their mother, my wife
- reach out to them
- delight in them
- play with them in ways they enjoy
- invest my time, energy, mind, heart in what matters to them
- listen to them, even when I ´m tired or want to do something else
- model self-discipline, perseverance, humility, graciousness…
- admit weakness and failure, ask forgiveness, try again…
- keep a sense of humor
- love them in action, not just words or in my heart
Now, I didn’t say I have been successful doing all these things consistently. There are many times that my kids readily can point out to me how far I am falling short of my own ideals and of what I have taught them to do! Rather, I ´m talking about attributes that I value and want to demonstrate in their presence, day in and day out.
Then it occurred to me to ask, ¨How is God like this ideal parent? ¨ ¨How could I know God in these ways better? ¨ ¨How can I become more like God the Father? ¨
God doesn’t fail as I do, but so much of what I aspire to be as a human father, God does by nature. God loves, forgives, serves, sacrifices for me, cares from his heart and loves in action, offers guidance and wisdom, invests in me, engages me, draws me close to himself. Just pausing to realize some of these things, made me feel closer to God, and inspired me to want to find other ways God is a good parent to me, and ways I can become more like God in my fathering.
The next day following writing down these intial musings, I had a chance to take the road less travelled with my oldest son, Tim. He and I took an alternative route over the mountains and met up my wife and other son 12 hours later. The scenery was spectacular. Poorly marked trails; long, steep inclines; mid-summer heat; and a painful, final stretch downhill, all made for a fabulous adventure. Hours of silence or simple conversation, hardly seeing another soul, in such beauty, created a peaceful, joyful feeling that was so deep that neither of us could imagine ever feeling otherwise.
Yet, the best part of the day for me was simply being with my son. The joy did not come from what we did or said, as much as it came from being in his presence, when we both were at felt completely free to be ourselves and to enjoy the experience together. I watched as Tim stopped to photograph the sunrise slowly splashing light into the valley hundreds of feet below us. I smiled when I heard joy in his voice, while marvelling at centuries old tree trunks, or stooping to pat a dog that ran out of nowhere to greet us. I laughed when we had to duck to get out of the way of a horned cow that suddenly took an unhealthy interest in us. I growled with him as we inspected the long scratches and bleeding legs that came from treacherous thorn bushes after being forced off trail on our final descent into the third valley of the day ´s hike.
Then, at some point, I suddenly realized that I was learning something about God the Father from my experience with Tim. If God loves me as I love my son, surely he delights in just being with me. If I can feel such joy just seeing Tim so happy and peaceful, I have to think that God–whose capacity to love must far exceed mine–must be thrilled to be with me at such times, too. He loves me all the time, but delights in and with me when I am experiencing the abundant life he intends for me, because that ´s the nature of a Father ´s (and Mother ´s) love.
What a different kind of knowledge of God, the Father–and different way of gaining it. What I knew in my head from reading the Bible, I had experienced through my time with my son. Now my heart can freely affirm, what I have been taught to believe in my head. God delights in me, just because I am his child.
More on God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit, later….