As God is the ultimate, unsurpassed being, any encounter with Him must, of necessity, be the summit of a human life; the nec plus ultra of human experience.
Consequently, to miss out on such an encounter is the greatest disaster or impoverishment a human being can ever know.
In the Bible we see many references to the presence and activity of God in the world – what is termed theologically, ‘immanence’. Yet many Christians, those who one would imagine are most open to encountering the divine, seem to live as if God was largely absent from His creation.
I wonder if the words of Jacob apply to us?
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’ (Genesis 28:16-17, NIVUK)
What a disaster to have been in the very presence of God and yet not to have known it!
Just think, Jacob might have woken up, walked away, and continued his journey completely ignorant that he had lain at the very Gate of Heaven. Only God’s divine revelation enabled him to see the glory that he almost missed.
This theme re-occurs throughout scripture – a stark and sustained presentation of man’s startling inability to perceive the divine in front of his own face. At one point a man’s own donkey has more spiritual perception than the man himself;
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.
The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.” (Numbers 22:31-33, NIVUK)
The writings of the Celtic Church are a helpful corrective as they awaken our sluggish senses to the Presence in which ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).
Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every bush afire with God,
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
(Elizabeth Barret Browning, Aurora Leigh)
Achieving our full human potential, something which can only be achieved through the experience of divine encounter, will only happen if we open ourselves and attune ourselves to the Presence that surrounds us.
There has to come a day for each of us, when we wake to the fact that ‘the place on which you stand is holy ground.’ It is in the absolutely ordinary parts of life that He comes to meet us. (David Adam, The cry of the deer, p85)
As the Jesuit mystical theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote,
…by virtue of Creation and still more of Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary everything is sacred. (Teilhard de Chardin, Le Milieu Divin, p66)
Christ’s incarnation is the pivot point for all human existence. In Christ, God comes down and moves into our neighbourhood;
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14, NIVUK)
The Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost serves only to deepen and widen this experience of ‘God among us’. As David Adam points out;
If you asked a Celt where is Jesus now, the reply would be very similar to the one Procula received from Longinus in Masefield’s play, ‘The Trial of Jesus’. She asked, “Do you think he is dead?” and he replied, “No, lady, I don’t.” When asked, “Then where is he?” Longinus replied, “Let loose in the world, lady.” (David Adam, The Cry of the Deer, London: Triangle, 1987, p50)
Christ is ‘let loose in the world’, through the presence of the Holy Spirit active in and around us, in the warp and weft of our everyday lives.
It was this strong Celtic sense of Christ’s accompanying and surrounding Presence that transformed Celtic Christians. For them no day, no place, no task was ordinary – for everything was done in God and with God and for God; everything was supernatural and redolent with the potential of grace.
When we come to the Celtic Church, we discover men and women who are quite simple, are not particularly clever or gifted, but to them, God is a living and glorious reality which supernaturalises their everyday life and transforms their most ordinary events into sublime worship. For them God is not a God of the past, or confined to the Bible or the Holy Land, but the Divine Reality to be encountered each day, in each event and each decision. This is a God of the Now, involved in the present situation, and His will and way are to be discovered and followed. (David Adam The cry of the deer, p67f)