…I've been searching for God for 8 years, I mean really searching. I wouldn't be what you would call a practising Catholic, but I read a lot. I read book after book, but I don't seem to be getting any where. I even took a clue from your website and began reading Meister Eckhart, but he left me completely at sea. I could hardly get through the first page. Then someone told me I was reading the wrong Eckhart, I should be reading Eckhart Tolle. The Power of Now is a great book, but he hardly ever mentions God…. Could you recommend some other book that would help me here? I don't intend to give up, but I'm finding the going very rough. Thanks for your help…. Dennis P.
Dear Dennis, I believe your searching is more fruitful than you think. All searching for God is already a kind of finding. “All the way to God is God,” said St Teresa of Ávila. Don't be impatient to come to the end of your search. That might conceal a hidden wish to be simply rid of it. The search for God doesn’t end. If you were to see, for example, an 80-year-old monk in his monastery you might get the impression that he had long ago come to the end of his search. But the ancient monastic prescription is “to seek God” – quaerere Deum – all one’s life. We seek God all our life long. So settle down for the long haul!
I could do nothing better here than quote Rilke for you, though in this passage he was not referring specifically to the search for God.
“Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the question now. Perhaps then, some day far in the future you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
I think Rilke would like to wean you away a little from books, and so would I! Books are wonderful, like food; they are a kind of food. Eating and reading are good in moderation, and when we take a bit of exercise afterwards! In both cases the best exercise is walking. Spiritual practice is walking with God. The book I would recommend is the book of experience.
How do we walk with God? By seeing God in everything, because “God is in all things.” Does that mean that when you look at something you don't see it at all, but instead you start thinking about God? No, no, that would be to say that God is not in things at all, that God is only an external reference. We don't have to think about God in order to be present to God. (I think I'll quote a passage from Evdokimov in this month’s Wisdom Line; he’s one who makes this point at full strength.) This is not to say that thinking about God is useless. No, it has many uses; but God is present to us in ways that are “too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). When you are in the presence of some object – a tree – be aware of its presence. This doesn’t require any words, your own or a poet’s words. Presence is silent. If you were accidentally to hit your head on a low-lying branch of the tree you would be silent for a second or two – then you would start thinking about it, and in that instant you would become absent; your thinking would have created a distance between you and the tree. We are normally absent. This is why Eckhart Tolle’s books and talks are so compelling; they keep recalling us to presence. Just now, as I was typing, the Angelus bell rang and I did what I always do: I stood in silence for the duration and let the sound of the bell go right through me, cleaning me out and leaving a silence in which the mystery of the Incarnation can echo. I learned this in a Cistercian monastery years ago (see the section Jacob’s Well on this website, 2002, ‘The New Human Being’). Eckhart Tolle doesn’t mention God much, as you say. This is, he said, because the word ‘God’ has become so used and so misused that for many it can now stand as a barrier to awareness rather than as an expression of it. Christian mystics have said the same thing – the other Eckhart, for example, once said: “I pray God to rid me of God!” Words can become idols, as believers have always known – even the word ‘God’. They are much more likely to be mistaken for the reality than a statue or a picture. “If one knows anything in God,” said Meister Eckhart, “and affixes any name to it, that is not God. God is above names.”
How then do we see God in all things? We search for God all our lives; but God is not lost. We are lost. God is always present, and when we become present God is present in that awareness. As long as we are present – to anything, even to a tree – we are present to God. Any object, any sound, anything whatsoever, can clean us out, as the Angelus bell does, and leave a silence in which the Silent Presence can reverberate.
God bless your search, Dennis. Not one moment of it is wasted.