A farmer once attended a conference on Christian life. The group was asked to consider a moment in life when they had an experience of self-transcendence. The farmer became very interested when he recounted that during the harvest he would stand in a field of wheat and hold a grain of new wheat in his hand. This experience was overwhelming and moved him to tears; but he never told anyone as he didn’t think they would understand. As the farmer continued, he came to realize that up until now he had never connected this profound experience of the harvest with his faith as a Christian.
God is always present to us and trying to communicate himself to us if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. God was blessing that farmer, providing for him in his work, and giving him the joy of the harvest, though the farmer did not realize it. The more we are open and attentive, the more we will realize God’s presence and receive his gifts. The experience of God touches our whole person, our mind, our emotions, even our physical bodies. We need to reflect more on the ways we really experience God in our ordinary lives in order to come to greater conscious awareness of his presence within and around us.
God can communicate himself to us in so many ways. He reveals himself through creation which reveals the beauty and power of the Creator. In persons, places and events he is present to us. He cleanses and nurtures us with his very life in the sacraments. In prayer God manifests himself to us in a special way through our faculties—especially the most spiritual faculties of the human person–in our memory, intellect and will. As we experience God through these faculties, we move from God “out there” to God within our very being. We meditate on God’s word and come to understanding of his truth and conviction in living in his love. Faith is not merely intellectual assent, but the experience of the living God in a covenant of love. In prayer we open our hearts to God’s action and he moves us in the free use of our faculties, making us alive in his grace.
Let’s begin with the faculty of memory. Our memories are the storehouses of our life experiences and give us a sense of identity. We have an entire history of our relationship with God in these experiences. As we pray with the scriptures, God touches our memories and brings us to awareness of our participation in the mysteries of the life of Christ. For instance, as I pray upon the episode of Christ’s baptism, I may recall my own baptism and incorporation into Christ and how his abiding presence has awakened a sense of my own call as a son of God the Father.
I then apply the faculty of the intellect to ponder the mystery. I might think about John the Baptist and his humility, feeling unworthy to baptize Jesus. I think of Jesus’ humility in identifying with sinners though he was without sin. I allow these thoughts to penetrate my own proud heart, moving me to desire humility and a share in the grace of Christ’s baptism.
Now I am moving through the memory and intellect toward acts of the will. Aware of the presence of the Holy Trinity in Christ’s baptism, I am moved to desire greater union. I make acts of faith, hope and love with my will. I choose to accept the grace of my own baptism and to follow Christ more closely in his humility and desire to serve. Touched by God’s grace, I feel alive in body, soul and spirit.
Notice how the memory, intellect and will always work together in harmony. In exercising these faculties, we are in the image of the Holy Trinity. In prayer and by grace, we experience the love of the holy Trinity in and through these spiritual faculties. We really do experience God, especially in prayer.
Father Greg Cleveland’s new book, Awakening Love, is available this fall from Pauline Books & Media.