Category Archives: Knowing God

Seeking God for Real (7 of 7)

This series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

To what extent can you honestly say that you are “seeking” God?

I’m talking about going beyond what we’ve been discussing over the past few weeks. Seeking God may certainly include studying (learning what the Bible says about God and God’s love), reflecting (drawing on your past experience to draw near to God in the present), and asking God for what he most wants for you (to reveal God-self and Christ’s love to you). Yet, actively seeking God is more creative and more open-ended than looking for specific, prescribed outcomes.

Instead of asking for a specific grace (as we talked about last time), you enter into a posture of readiness to learn, to see, to feel, or to experience whatever God might want to teach, show, or do in your life. Though you may be driven to seek God out of your own need and desire, the more mature your seeking becomes, the more you will seek to know and experience God on God’s terms and in God’s timing, in ways that fulfill God’s purposes for your life.

This kind of seeking is both active and passive. You take initiative, and yet wait patiently. You are earnest and diligent in your pursuit of God, while expecting God to reveal God-self in surprising ways, independent of your efforts. You insist on never letting go of your desire for God, even while you continually empty yourself of all concrete expectations and demands. You keep knocking on the door of heaven like the persistent widow, while praying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

In 2006, when my family and I were walking the Camino, I had many opportunities to seek God in prayer. In fact, the whole 500 mile pilgrimage over the Pyrenees and across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela was largely about seeking God. At one point I began praying, “God, help me to know you better, and specifically to know you as abba, father.” I had no idea how God might answer this prayer. It wasn’t up to me to figure that out, but to stay open, observant, prayerful, and ready.

One day, not long after I started praying this way, I got my first answer. Though Jill questioned my sanity, Tim (my elder son) and I took an alternative route over the mountains and met up with Dan (my younger son) and her twelve hours later. The scenery was spectacular. The experience was the best of the pilgrimage so far. Hours in silence or simple conversation, in such beauty and hardly seeing another soul, created a peaceful, joyful feeling that was so deep 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 felt completely free to be ourselves and to enjoy the various experiences together.

Spiritually, the most powerful moment came when I suddenly realized something about God the Father that had never sunk in before. If God loves me as I love my son, surely God delights in just being with me as I was delighting in being with my son. If I can feel such joy just seeing Tim so happy and peaceful, I have to think that God—whose parental love must far exceed mine (see Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 66:13)—must be thrilled to be with me any time I am experiencing life as he intends for me, and I am conscious of the depth of his love and relationship with me. (Excerpted from One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living.)

What is God going to show you if you seek him more earnestly and diligently each day? I don’t know exactly. Seeking God doesn’t try to answer that question before undertaking the journey.

Rather, we seek God in order to find what we cannot find otherwise. And when we knock, and no one answers; when we ask, and you do not receive; when we seek, and we do not find, then we must continue to knock, ask, and seek. And wait.  There’s no other place to turn for what we most need and desire.

“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9, NRSV).

The Point In addition to studying, reflecting, and asking to know and experience God more fully, actively seek God in the midst of your daily life. Open yourself to insight and experiences with God that you cannot predict or orchestrate. Ask for eyes to see whatever God may want to reveal to you, and then keep looking.

A Prayer “Creator God, I want to know you better and experience you more fully. Please show me more about who you are in ways that I can understand and believe. Help me not to be afraid of you, but to trust you to reveal what I most need to see, according to your will and purposes for my life and our relationship.”

© Dr. Timothy C. Geoffrion,

Please feel free to copy or send to as many other seekers of God as possible!

Proper crediting of author and source required.


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Ask for What God Most Wants for You (6 of 7)

This series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

What do you ask God for when you pray?

Most of us routinely ask God for help in one way or another—a very biblical, natural, and helpful practice. However, we can easily get stuck on our physical and material needs, or on our ideas and desires for our life, when God wants something far more significant and lasting for us.

Instead of just asking God for what you want or think you need, seek the most important gifts he has for you that best fit with his will for your life.

When I was on a seven-day silent retreat a few weeks ago, we prayed several times each day, using methods developed by Ignatius of Loyola. Each time we went to prayer, we read Scripture and asked God for a “grace”. We weren’t asking for forgiveness, but for a particular experience of God. For example, we asked for the grace…

• to see and experience the enormity of God’s love,

• to see our sins and how they are affecting our life and relationship to God,

• to recognize the magnitude of God’s mercy,

• to be able to love God more fully, or

• to be able to follow and serve Christ better.

These are the experiences God most wants for us, because they are the ones that have the power to truly transform us and to move us more fully into the life God intends for us.

When I was 13 or 14 years old, I wanted to know if God truly loved me. I knelt by the side of my bed. My eyes were closed. I clasped my hands together. I prayed, “God if you care about me, show me. In some way, help me to believe that you truly love me.”

While waiting for an answer, I suddenly saw in my mind a huge hand extended through the clouds toward me. I knew at the time that I was probably creating an image that fit with what I wanted to believe. However, something else within me said that God was responding to the cry of my heart. I’m convinced God was revealing his love to me that day, because the joy I felt, and the comfort I received, fit with how the Holy Spirit has frequently ministered to me ever since.

Similarly, in the Psalms, David praises God and describes God’s help in his life like a hand descending from the sky. He wrote. “[The Lord] reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters” (Psalm 18:16).

Then, what David experienced through a personal experience, God has done for all of us in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Talk is cheap, and feelings are fleeting. The love that you most need will reveal itself in action. You can know you are deeply loved when someone intentionally does something for your well-being, especially if their gift comes at a personal sacrifice—as God’s incarnation and Jesus’ death dramatically illustrate.

God’s love you is already well established in the historical, concrete existence and life of Jesus. You never have to question it. And at the same time, it is not uncommon for God to reach out to us in various ways to convince us of his love and presence. Perhaps the revelation will come as a feeling, through a vision, in a dream, by a new understanding, or by setting you free in a new way. The Holy Spirit may speak a timely word to you, love you through someone else, or work through you to bless those around you in some way. Or, you may simply be given an inexplicable peace or joy.

You cannot know how God is going to reveal his love to you on from day to day, and you can’t manipulate or control God’s interaction with you. But you can ask. You can ask for a special grace to draw you closer to God and to experience more of what God has already revealed to you in Jesus.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)

The Point To move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life, let your prayers be guided by what God most wants for you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the depth of Christ’s love for you. Ask to become increasingly convinced that God is present with you and truly does care about you. Ask that your heart’s desires will be increasingly purified until nothing is more important to you than your relationship with God and your ability to love and serve Christ. Ask, and it will be given.

A Prayer “Eternal God, you are beyond my ability to understand. I often cannot perceive your presence in the ways I would like, and I long for more of your touch. Please reach out to me in some way that I can grasp that I may be assured of your love and your care in my life. Help me to treasure my relationship with you above all others, and to accept your love on your terms.”

Suggestion: Start a journal expressly for the purpose of recording the ways that God reveals himself to you, loves you, and helps you to sense his presence and care for you.

*For more on knowing God and my experiences in seeking to know God through experience, see pp. 124-125, One Step at a Time.

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Drawing on the Past to Draw Near in the Present (5 of 7)

This series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

In response to last week’s article, “Why we think God might love us,” one reader wrote, “I do not just want to know about God, I want to feel God in me!”

If this at all describes what you want, there is hope. While you cannot control God or your dictate your experience with God, you can “draw near to God” with confidence that God will “draw near to you” (James 4:8).

But how does one draw near to God?

In the next three articles, we are going to look at three powerful spiritual practices—reflecting, asking, and seeking—to help you move from knowing about God to experiencing God more personally in your life. First, the practice of spiritual “reflecting.” 1

No matter how distant God may seem at the moment, what has been your personal experience with the presence and love of God in the past? If you think back to the many significant moments or turning points in your life, what could you point to as evidence of God’s activity? When have you felt God’s touch?

You may have received an answer to prayer or had a special experience with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you perceived God’s love through someone else or an extraordinary series of circumstances. If you are feeling distant from God or want to feel his presence more, now may be a very good time to stop and ask the Holy Spirit to refresh your memory of all the ways God has been and is at work in your life for good. (Take a moment now to jot down the first few memories that come to mind.)

In the Magnificat, Mary celebrates in song what God was doing for her and would do for all of humanity through her son Jesus. At the time of the “Visitation” at the home of Elizabeth, Mary sings about the great works of God—not ideas about God, but the concrete actions of God. In reflecting on her experience with God, she is filled with joy and praise, perceiving the love of God in her life.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

(Luke 1:46-49, NRSV)

When I look at my past through the eyes of faith, I can see how the Holy Spirit has worked through many significant events, people, and circumstances to shape who I am and my relationship with God. I meet someone special, take an incredible class, experience a great success or devastating tragedy, discover something profound or powerful in Scripture, use my talents in ways that open my eyes to meaning and purpose in my life, or make a critical decision with far-reaching consequences. Each experience then joins a whole train of other significant life-changing moments, which together become my testimony of God’s work in my life.

While anyone can point to noteworthy “chance” encounters or “coincidences” that have altered their life significantly, when you look at your life through the eyes of faith, you will see God at work. Then, not only will you think differently, you will feel differently as well.

Why? Because as you let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to the truth of God’s love and activity in your life in the past, you will be experiencing the Holy Spirit in the present. And, with Mary, the more you sense that you are truly blessed, the more you will have your own song to sing.

When you look back over your life so far, what in your experience suggests to you that God knows who you are, cares about you, and is in fact at work in your life for good purposes?

What is your song?

I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12, NIV)

The Point: To move from simply knowing about God to experiencing the presence and love of God more personally in your life, you need to create enough space to let the Holy Spirit speak to you. Start by taking some time alone to look back on your life. Pray for eyes to see the many different ways God has been at work in your past experience, so that you may be better able to see and feel God in the present.

A Prayer: “Dear God, by faith I believe that you love me and are at work in my life, but sometimes I feel so alone and empty. Please help me to see where you have been active in my life over the years, and to feel your presence now. Teach me the song of praise and gratitude that only I can sing, because the lyrics express all the ways you have loved me and love me still.”

1 Many of the ideas from this article are discussed at greater length in One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living, pp. 126-129.

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.

Photo: © Jill K.H. Geoffrion.

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Why We Think God Might Love Us (4 of 7)

The series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

What are you doing to know God and God’s love for you better?

Answering this question is critical for the person who is seeking to know God’s will, because, as we said last week, discernment requires personal transformation, and our ability to be transformed depends upon the quality of our relationship with God.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to look at several of the most powerful spiritual practices that can help you to grow in your relationship with God. Today, I want to start with something you already know, but—if you are like nearly every other Christian on the face of the earth—it is something that gets minimized or neglected.

No matter how intelligent, experienced, wise, or knowledgeable you may be, you simply must be reading the Bible for yourself, if you want to hear the voice of God and to keep growing in your relationship with God. Even if you’ve already mastered the content of the Bible, read it existentially: ask God to reveal God-self to you in fresh ways.

For example, right now I’m reading through the Torah and asking God for new insight into who Yahweh was for ancient Israel—and for what I need to come to grips with better in my own understanding of and relation to God. Yet, no matter what passage I turn to, I pray, “Speak to me, Lord. Show me what I need to see. Take me to a place of understanding that I cannot get to on my own.”

Psalm 103 is one of my favorite passages for reflecting on who God is and the relevance of God’s love for me. David writes:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,

slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children,

so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

…from everlasting to everlasting

the LORD’S love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven,

and his kingdom rules over all. (103:8-13, 17-19)

As a complement to the paternal and sovereign characterizations of God in Psalm 103, the beautiful maternal imagery for God in Isaiah 66:13 helps me to see that God of the Old Testament is tender as well as intense:

As a mother comforts her child,

so will I comfort you;

and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

And then there’s the amazing teaching that God decided before the creation of the world to love us and to make us his children:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who … chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:3-8)

Going forward, we’re going to look at how we can move from knowing about God to knowing God in ways that are more and more personally transforming. This week’s article was simply a reminder to get back to the basics in order to develop a stronger relationship with God.

It’s only by reading the Bible that we know that God loves us even beyond the capacity of the most loving father or mother. Though he knows our weaknesses and failures, he loves us and helps us. God chose us before the foundation of the world to be his children, dearly loved by him. And God sent his son, Jesus, to save us and to bring us to live by God’s side forever.

The Point: The most intuitive among us might be able to guess some of God’s characteristics, but there is no way we would know God’s character, the magnitude of God’s love, or the significance of God’s activity in history apart from the teaching of the Bible. So what’s your plan for reading it?

A Prayer: “Dear God, please remind me every day to keep looking for you where you reveal yourself. Lead me to the biblical passages that will most help me to see what I need to see about you so that my relationship with you will keep growing stronger and stronger.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.

Photo: © Jill K.H. Geoffrion.

To sign up to receive a personal email every time a new article is posted, please email me at Simply write “add me” in the subject line.

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Knowing God, the Holy Spirit, Better (3 of 7)

The series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

In Spanish art, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove. The image comes from the Gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism. In all four accounts, the evangelists describe the Holy Spirit’s descending in the form of a dove and alighting on Jesus. The dove somehow represented both God’s approval and God’s filling of Jesus with the Spirit. On pilgrimage, I experienced the Spirit as both the Dove of internal peace, and even more, as the Wind of change.

On pilgrimage, I sought to come to know the Holy Spirit better by seeking help, inspiration and transformation throughout the day as I struggled with my impulses, selfishness and reactions. Every day I was keenly aware of my own natural way of being in the world. Could walking more closely with the Spirit truly change me for the better, or at least make it possible for me to respond differently in difficult circumstances?

On July 19, we had to walk nearly 30 km (18 miles) to Foncebadon. I was Mr. GrumpHead at the start of the day, after a poor night’s sleep, tossing and turning with light in my eyes, oppressive heat in the room, and being self-conscious sleeping nearly nude (because of the oppressive heat) in room full of people. Then, when it was time to leave in the morning, Jill and one of my sons got mad at me because I wasn’t ready precisely when they were. I had been helping my other son and paying for the breakfast. I felt judged and underappreciated. Rather than try to explain, I just got mad in return, and sulked.

Then it started raining, and, as we faced the prospect of a long dreary, wet walk, son Tim wanted to walk even further, 5.8 km (about 3 ½ miles), than planned, uphill. I was tired, sore, hungry and crabby by the time we got to our attic room in the albergue on the side of a mountain, in a nearly deserted, broken down village—seemingly ready for demolition. It was not a very fun day or comforting place to rest.

However, along the way, I experienced a transformation in my attitude. I didn’t become superhuman, adopt a Stoic attitude or nonchalantly let everything roll off my back. I was still worn out and edgy by day’s end. I still wished my family understood me better. But, early on, my perspective suddenly changed and my spirit softened, changing my experience of the day’s walk significantly.

As I walked in solitude early in the day—too angry to want to walk with the others—I asked God to help me connect to the Spirit better—to let go of the anger and to be filled with love, joy, and peace. I wanted to be free from the power of the turmoil, so that I could focus better on the walk and on others. That day, praying worked. Somehow, my desire for transformation and my prayer swept the anger away. I stopped getting rained on, emotionally, even while my clothes were getting completely soaked.

Through that experience, an image presented itself that now represents the Holy Spirit to me. Instead of the dove, it was the wind. (Jesus used the same image in talking about how people are spiritually born again in John 3.) As we walked in the drizzle and rain, I noticed times that rain clouds were quickly swept away from us by the wind. When that happened, the rain was short-lived. At other times, rain clouds hovered overhead, and the rain kept falling on us. The Holy Spirit is like the wind that can chase away my anger and foul moods, if I let it. When I don’t pray, and I don’t want to be changed, the clouds hang there, and I get more and more wet.

Throughout the pilgrimage, I struggled with my own moods competing with walking in the Spirit. Many times, my fatigue or hunger or desires seemed to be the greatest influences on my mindset and behavior. Caffeine and sugar had their affect, too. Yet, no matter what the cause for my pre-occupation with myself and my condition, sometimes I wanted the Holy Spirit to just “take over,” but it rarely happened that way. Dominating, controlling, eliminating selfishness and sin, or permanently filling me with the fruit of the Spirit does not seem to be what the Spirit does.

Rather, as I wrote at the end of another long, hot walk, “the Spirit is more like the breeze I’m feeling at the moment, suddenly springing up to blow cool air over my hot, tired body, then ceasing. I can try to put myself where I think the wind will blow, but I cannot start or stop the flow.” (7/21/06, Villafranca) My experience on pilgrimage truly was helping me to get to know God, the Holy Spirit, better, as I sought to connect with the Spirit in the midst of daily struggles.

I was learning to recognize the Spirit’s activity in other circumstances, too. At times, I suspected that the Holy Spirit was at work when I suddenly got a timely idea, reminder, question or other prompting in my head or heart. I might recall a Bible verse of reassurance that fit a troubling situation, or suddenly think to take a different approach to handling a problem with one of my sons, or get an inspiration to talk to Jill or one of the boys about an important subject at a very opportune moment.

For example, one day I suddenly realized that I hadn’t been doing much to help Tim and Dan reflect on or grow from their experiences. I prayed for an opportunity to broach the subject, without intimidating or frightening them. That afternoon, their mother had an emotional meltdown after a very strenuous walk that left her in great pain and distress. The boys and I found ourselves at dinner alone—a perfect opportunity to play cards, which we enjoy doing a lot. Yet, I realized we also were being given an opportunity to talk at a deeper level. Because I had thought and prayed about talking to them about spiritual issues, I had been prepared for this moment.

We began by talking about today’s traumatic event, and moved to talking about how to use crises as learning experiences. We can ask ourselves, “How do I respond? What can I reflect on? What can I learn? What do I want to do differently now?” Their mother’s ordeal might have remained an uncomfortable experience that we moved quickly to distance ourselves from. Instead, we used the incident as an opportunity for reflection and connection with one another. I sensed it was the Holy Spirit who had prompted me to be ready to take better spiritual leadership in our family. The Spirit helped me to resisting become self-absorbed in my own coping instincts, so that I could offer the counsel and guidance needed that day.

On pilgrimage, the physical and emotional challenges force us to face what is real—our limitations, our selfish desires, our attachments to our emotional responses to conflict and adversity. Simple textbook answers to the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives are irrelevant. As we walk, we are forced to seek the real thing or abandon the search altogether. It would have been easy to assume that God was not present or available to help in the midst of the struggles and pain. But by choosing to seek God and remain open for God to act according to his own times and ways, I often experienced the Holy Spirit’s gracious “wind” that refreshed, revived, and changed me. Though I could not summon the Spirit on demand, I learned that praying with my questions, concerns and desires, and then listening, watching, and waiting helped me to come to know the Spirit better and walk more closely with and by the Spirit.

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Knowing God Better–As Son (2 of 7)

The series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

We can know a fair amount about Jesus, the Son of God, through the Gospels. Yet most of realize that knowing about Jesus is not the same thing as knowing Jesus. Furthermore, as New Testament scholar Wayne Meeks articulately points out in his recent monograph, Christ Is the Question, historical research is inadequate to come up with a clear, consistent picture of Jesus anyway. He argues that, instead of relying solely on researching historical documents, knowing Jesus requires the personal engagement of each individual, community and generation. Knowing Jesus is not a static historical endeavor, but an ongoing, dynamic, spiritual process, rooted in history but developed existentially and communally through time. In other words, the various biblical accounts of Jesus call us to develop our own knowledge of Christ by interacting with the biblical narratives and testimonies available to us and by seeking our own personal connection with Christ.

So, how does anyone get to know Jesus Christ better through experience? I mean, as distinct from God as Father (Mother) or the Holy Spirit? As I reflected on this question on pilgrimage in Spain, my attention kept being drawn to the symbols of Jesus everywhere—on hillsides, in the villages, around the public squares, and, of course, in every church. Though in recent decades Spain has become decidedly more secular, it is still predominately a Roman Catholic country. This means, for example, crosses are displayed in public places in nearly every town. An image of the body of Christ is paraded through many towns during Easter week with elaborate rituals carried on throughout the nights. And in nearly every church, Christ is prominently displayed, hanging on the cross, usually in the front of the sanctuary, behind the altar, often above Mary, Queen of Heaven, who holds the Christ child on her lap. In addition, sometimes we find the crucified Jesus in a glass casket, affixed to poles, allowing the people to carry him through the streets on Good Friday.

James Michner, in Iberia, discusses the thoroughly Catholic character of Spain, at least from the time of the expulsion of the Moors in the fifteenth century through the mid-20th century, when he wrote his book. I could see for myself that through symbols and special rituals, alongside regular mass and religious holidays, many of the people of Spain have developed an ongoing, significant relationship with the Son of God. I spoke to very few individuals to find out how any one individual might articulate that relationship, but it was clear to me that the Christ held a very significant role in the culture.

How do they know him, then? How do any of us know Christ in present experience? Our knowledge with him grows as we more fully appreciate his character, his priorities, his passions, his service to humanity, and his ongoing role in the world. Though the crucifix is the primary way he is depicted in Spain, Christ is also portrayed in art, stained glass windows, and sculptures as the Judge of the world, the Savior of those who put their faith in him, and the ultimate Redeemer of the Universe. To know Christ is to appreciate what he has done for us in history, what he offers us now by way of forgiveness and promise for the future, and what he will bring to the world at the end of time. In a word, Christ symbolizes hope to believers, because he himself is Hope in so many ways.

In many towns, I would spend time in the church there, sitting at length in front of the crucifix. For one, it was a relief from the blistering mid-day, summer heat—the churches were often the only cool places in town. But even more, the visual depiction of Christ at the moment of his greatest personal sacrifice would lead me to the Son in a way that powerfully engaged my mind, my heart, and my spirit.

As I have written elsewhere, for me the crucifix communicates Christ’s sacrificial love more than anything else. The visual depiction of his suffering and death reminds me that it cost Jesus a great deal to fulfill his God-given purpose. By contemplating his sacrifice, made with real flesh and blood, I grasp better the extent of his love and devotion to God, whom he called Father. I can feel the intensity of his passion more fully. The implications of his commitment to a prophetic ministry in the face of hostile opposition, culminating in his dying out of his faithfulness to God, overwhelm me—yet draw me to him more strongly than ever.

Thus, by contemplating the crucifix, I believe I actually “know” Christ better. By reflecting on the many symbols and rituals found ubiquitously in Spain, I came to know Jesus more profoundly as Hope—not just for me personally, but for all who would put their faith in him; and for the world, which will one day be redeemed. I did not learn one thing about the Son of God that isn’t already explained in Scripture, but my experience of seeking out a greater understanding through experience has profoundly deepened my appreciation and love for him, all leading to a powerfully felt devotion to him.

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Knowing God Better–As Father (1 of 7)

The series is about knowing God, the creator, more deeply and being able to experience God more personally in your daily life.

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….

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