The discussion of how we perceive God has always intrigued me. I’m sure it has other people, though it is one of those things that cannot be completely related to another because its nature is so personal.
…If I say that I do not see Him with eyes of the body or the eyes of the soul, because this is no imaginary vision, how then can I know and affirm that he is beside me with greater certainty [than] if I saw Him? If one says that one is like a person in the dark who cannot see someone though he is beside him, or that one is like somebody who is blind, it is not right. There is some similarity here, but not much, because a person in the dark can perceive with the other senses, or hear his neighbor speak or move, or can touch him. Here this is not so, nor is there any feeling of darkness. On the contrary, He appears to the soul by a knowledge brighter than the sun. I do not mean that any sun is seen, or any brightness, but there is a light which, though unseen, illumines the understanding. (St. Teresa 1957, chap. 27, pp. 187-89)1
As Ilkka Pyysiäinen has pointed out, there are two types of thinking of God: about and with (or more technically, “reflective” and “intuitive” respectively). Whether this quote by St. Teresa supports the intuitive relationship with God, or if there is a third way of perceiving God’s presence of other-ness (Holiness?), is undecided for me.
What I do know is that, for me personally, there are 3 modes of thought where I feel closest to God. Not just His reality, but His coddling of my being in His bosom.
- On the more intuitive side, the first mode of thought would be my casual conversations with Him. Earnestly seeking His will; honestly (even antagonistically) looking for truth. When I am certain of His will and I am actively doing it, I get a shiver of ecstasy and wherefore goosebumps follow.
- When I am angry at His will for me and provokingly (many times blatantly) confront Him, I catch wind of His mercy and humility rocks me to the ground.
- On the more reflective side, the times I feel closest to Him is when I deny His existence. Many times I catch myself in an active debate of objectivity in my head. “What if the other side is right?” “What if all this pursuit of the Holy is not unlike the makings of an imaginary friend?”2 I wade back and forth, attempting to hold on to my belief, and when finally let go–God plunges His hand into my heart and holds me up. I see reality through the worldview of athiesm–no control, no purpose, no ends–and I accept it; only to face the awing splendor of the particularity of reality and the order that sustains it.
[There is also another half-point on my direct perception of God I have written related to my backsliding days. As of now it’s incomplete, though I’ll post it later on and link it to this article.]
1 Perceiving God: Alston, William P. “The Experience of God.” The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY. 13. 1991.
2 By the way, I did have an imaginary friend when I was young. Psychological defense mechanism? Evolutionary vestige of belief functional for survival? Or an angel playmate? (It’s ironic that most imaginary friends turn out to be ghosts/demons in movies, on that note.)