The religion I was raised in put a heavy emphasis on a personal relationship with God. I had developed this kind of relationship with my experience of the divine (which I named ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Holy Spirit’, etc.). This complex divine personality was my best friend, my closest kin, and my most passionate love. To say we were romantically involved is not an exaggeration. So when the presence of this divine personality seemed to withdraw, I felt betrayed. My angst is reflected in an entry I made on November 22, 2007:
The biggest, most glaring omission from my spiritual existence right now is…a sense of a personal god, a sense of seeing the Face of the Other. I observe the beauty of creation and realize the apparent purpose behind it, but the impulse to thank some-one, to praise a personal cause, has evaporated. My great lifeline to Gxd [a spelling I borrowed from Jean-Luc Marion in order to reflect my uncertainty of who/what I am attempting to name] used to be long walks on which I would bare my heart to ‘Him’; but now, when I walk, my mind is consumed with questions. Even now, I’m writing this out of obligation. I just really don’t feel like I care. What’s the quote? “Lord, I don’t love you. I don’t even want to love you. But I want to want to love you.” So that’s where I’m at. I’m open to and aware of the presence of an Infinite Life, but the question of us making It in our image looms large in my mind.
A few months later, after we had already gone to Africa, I continued to ponder this sense of a broken connection with the divine. The following entry is from February 23, 2008:
I am still at a loss to come to terms with my ‘relationship with God’. Several months ago I wrote that the change I can articulate is a depersonalization of God for me. When I’m praying, when I’m walking, when I’m listening to music or singing, I no longer feel myself in the gaze of the countenance [a reference to Martin Buber’s book I and Thou]. I no longer apprehend the address of the YOU. The loss of this perceived immediate, intersubjective awareness has come about gradually over the last couple of years. I’m not so perplexed as to what happened as to why. Was there something I did? Was there a decisive step I took to deflate my spirit of the Holy Spirit? Was it a thought I had, a book I read, a person I talked with?
That book by David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous, strikes me as a crucial point in this last year. How I loved Abram’s vision! I deeply resounded with it. But, oh, how it seemed not to share much with the explicit themes of the New Testament! How can I as an honest Christian thinker reconcile the joy of earthly embodiment and the vision of the New Testament which, in part, involves a restlessness and dissatisfaction with this earthly life?
But that is only one aspect. Indeed, there may be a way. The other is this: once having admitted that what we call the supernatural is also natural – but in a way far from being understood – it is hard to revert to a safer mythology. And why would I want to? All this fails to get at my angst. Alas, here’s the matter: I feel betrayed by my quest for truth, for the true nature of things. This is critical: I do not feel betrayed by truth itself. No, quite the contrary. There is nothing quite as exhilarating as the conviction that it is the truth that you have found…even through your betrayal.
I feel betrayed by my quest for truth in the sense that to follow truth’s trail wherever it leads seems to endanger my identity and even my relationships with all I’ve known and loved (besides truth itself). What I don’t understand is that from an evangelical (American) Christian point of view, many of my views/intuitions would be unbiblical or heterodox (if not heretical), but I have for years prayed earnestly that God would lead me into truth and not let me stray from the right path.
Fundamentally, I didn’t deviate from my strategy for finding truth, so if I have gone astray, what gives? Seek to understand, seek to understand, seek to understand…and then WHAM! Your understanding turns out to be the devil. I just don’t get it. This past year I’ve experienced a fragmentation of my beloved Self and what I would call the dissimilation of many dearly held thought structures. Ouch!
If I were to be honest – and why not? – I would tell you what I think is happening. I think that the Christian message, just like the biblical languages, is somehow an incarnation of some divine intention, an intention that can be incarnated in more than one context. Whether the Christian incarnation is the best, I can’t say. That divine intention, which can be apperceived in many ways – science, philosophy, religion, daily life, relationships, etc. – is always being intended, all around us, every second of every day. So the intention is always there prior to all its incarnations.
What I want to believe is happening to me is that God is preparing me – tilling my soil – to translate the divine intention into Ik-speak. He is making me into a translator par excellence. Because I am convinced of this prior, more esoteric intention, I can no longer put my stock in only one of its incarnations…I have been led to loosen my hold on my hermeneutical securities, on my well-worn ways of interpreting life…God is tilling my soil (ripping) so that I can have the seed of His intention planted afresh in my mind and heart in a way that will produce fruit that the Ik recognize and seeds to be planted in their soil as well.