Thursday came as sheer gift. In a week where my heart was issuing ‘bandwidth exceeded’ warnings as early as Tuesday, it was unexpected. I’d been planning to stagger through to this afternoon. At that point the morning’s preach would have marked the staging point as I finished one intense week and prepared for another. I certainly never expected the blessing of Thursday.
As it was, I’d been dreading the M25 trek. Rush hour = 10 miles an hour sometimes. A journey of something over an hour taking just under three. But that was the first gift. I got there in just under two hours. The second gift was of a different order though. As I walked through the garden and into the little summerhouse, I walked straight into the presence of God.
I know, I know. I sound like one of those weird charismatic types who sees God in the clouds and pieces of toast. (I don’t, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.)
But, much as I hate sounding like a crazy, I can only tell you what I know. I walked into the presence of God like you might step under a shower. One minute you’re dry. The next you’re under a steady stream of water. In the house and the garden, there he was because he’s always there. And in the summerhouse? Well, he was there in a different way. A localised manifestation of something. Spirit? Glory? Anyone want to help me here theologically? (Sadly, working as a theology lecturer doesn’t miraculously make one able to answer such questions. I wish it did!)
I’ve only walked into that kind of localised God-thing* once before. Other times, it has been process of becoming present to the Spirit of Jesus. It has taken longer. I’ve had to fight for it more. To quieten my heart. And he has come near more slowly. But on Thursday it was like he had already taken up residence in that summerhouse and I had turned up late, after he had already lit the lamps and got himself comfortable.
And in that place I experienced what I suppose might be called overshadowing. God drew near and everything in me was overwhelmed by his holiness and his beauty. Yet my mind did not stop. Sometimes I wish it would. These are not the times for an analysis of what God might possibly be doing. Or of why he chooses to work like this. Or of how on earth I could ever explain this theologically. Or for the other analysis – what exactly I’m having for lunch!
This mind thing is not so bad. I mean, it’s hardly as if I want to turn it off. We are called to test all things. To recognise that not all that is ‘spiritual’ is of Spirit. We worship with our minds too. But, that said, I also know that trying to categorise what he is doing, trying to understand every last detail of a God whose hiddenness is as true as his revealedness – this is, for me, control. It’s like David needing to number his army and, in doing so, circumventing God being God. For sure, the mystery of God is now revealed in Christ. Full stop, the end. Except that the text also tells me that some mysteries have not yet been seen by eye nor heard by ear nor imagined by heart of man. The God who is fully revealed in Christ is also the God whose hidden depths only the Spirit of God can search. And humanity? We are those who, even still, know only in part.
So the mental whirring is a bit of a mixed bag. But, after reading some of a critical introduction to Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, I’ve decided not to worry about it too much. To let it do what it will and trust that God will work whatever. Listen to what the writer (Kieran Kavanaugh, SPCK edition) says about Teresa’s perspective:
While the will finds rest in the prayer of quiet, in the peace of God’s presence, the intellect…continues to move about. One should let the intellect go and surrender oneself into the arms of love, for distractions, the wandering mind, are a part of the human condition and can no more be avoided than can eating and sleeping.
If that is so, then I don’t mind my cognitive faculties working overtime. After all, if I am at risk of becoming deceived, I’ll be glad of them testing everything and holding on only to the good. I appreciate that whatever I see or hear or experience, they will be pulling me always and only back to Christ.
But in a context where the rational – and rationalism – is king, I’m glad too to hear Teresa’s voice, reminding me that a wandering mind cannot be avoided and yet need not prevent self-surrender into the arms of love. I don’t have to keep being frustrated by the chatter of my mind when God draws near by his Spirit like that. Instead, I can let it go and trust that there is a time for the will to find rest in the prayer of quiet.
* theological technical term. 😉