Turning towards God
An Introduction to Christian Spirituality
I was only nine years old when I learned my first lesson in philosophy thanks to the conjurer at my friend’s birthday party. I was chosen to examine the inside of his top hat to prove that there was nothing in it. Then he proceeded to decorate the room with its contents draping everything in sight with silk handkerchiefs, flags and bouquets of flowers. Finally, to everyone’s amazement, he put his hand into the hat and produced a large white rabbit. When I told my father what I’d seen he said I’d been deceived, because he couldn’t possible have taken something out of nothing. If there was nothing in the hat then nothing could have come out of it. There was either something hidden inside it that I hadn’t seen, or something hidden up the conjurer’s sleeve, or in the table on which he’d place the hat. My father wasn’t a spoilsport he was just trying to teach me something that I’ve never forgotten. Something cannot come from nothing.
If something can’t come from nothing then, there must always have been something. It doesn’t take an Einstein therefore to work out that absolutely nothing can do nothing, let alone be responsible for creating the world. The ‘Big Bang’ then, or whatever else brought the Universe into being, cannot have been preceded by nothing. It must have been preceded by something.
The first and most important message that Christianity teaches is that this something is in fact ‘Someone’, in whom the most potent power in creation, which is love, is to be found in its fullness. No matter how sophisticated it might be some thing cannot produce love, love comes from someone for only a person can love. That’s why the Gospel states quite clearly that God is love. That’s what he was, that’s what he is, and that’s what he always will be, and that’s what he does. So I suppose it would be more accurate to say that God is not so much love but loving, because that’s what does all the time.
The second is that his love progressively penetrated the human nature of Jesus Christ. It was the tangible experience of being loved by God that was the source of his inner security and strength. It made him the most perfect and the most loveable person to have walked on this earth.
The third is that Christ himself made it clear, that his prime purpose in life was to transmit to other human beings the self-same love that animated him until they could experience it as he did. Then, to the measure that they received it they would be made ever more perfect human beings. Prayer is the word traditionally used to describe the way in which a person freely chooses to turn towards God to receive and then to assimilate this love ’til it unites us with him.
The Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Life.
Human beings are made of body and spirit, so when they get it right their love is both spiritual and physical at one and the same time. However God has no body, so when he loves, he loves with his Spirit alone. As a mark of reverence therefore, his love has been traditionally called The Holy Spirit.
The Spiritual life is the expression used to describe a new way of life organized by someone, who wants to start turning towards God regularly, in order to receive his love or his Holy Spirit. First and foremost this means building a prayer lifethat leads through meditation to contemplation where a person is turned towards God and more open to receiving his love than ever before. It means building an ascetical life too. In other words a life in which they try to see to it, that all other loves take second place to the love that they have chosen to receive from God. Gradually, if all goes well, they will begin to experience the mystical life stirring within them. The phrase mystical life just means hidden life and is used in the Christian tradition to describe the unseen love of God, as it begins to make itself felt within the person who perseveres in opening themselves to receive it. As this experience grows with the years they come to experience the self-same life that animated Jesus Christ, transforming them into the same sort of person that he was, whilst preparing them to become the same sort of person that he is now.
A Primary Principle of the Spiritual Life: – Love cannot be forced on anyone, not even by God.
Love is the most potent form of energy on earth. However it differs from all other forms of energy because it cannot be forced on anyone. We can only receive the love that relentlessly surges out of God therefore, by freely choosing to love him, for it is in loving that we open ourselves to be loved and to the experience of being loved. This is a commonplace truth for anyone who has been in love. However when we first start to pray the real truth is that we’ll feel a million miles away from God, and all talk of loving him, as we usually understand the word, just doesn’t add up. However a start has to be made, so prayer begins with the object of getting to know God – after all it doesn’t make sense to talk of loving someone when you don’t even know them.
Now, we get to know God in the same sort of way that we get to know anyone else. We may go clubbing with them, have a game of tennis with them, we may go out for a meal, or even invite them to spend their holidays with us, but in the end we only get to know them by sharing a conversation with them. We only get to know people by talking to them and what’s more important, by listening to what they’ve got to say to us. There is no other way. Getting to know God isn’t an exception to the rule. That’s why all prayer must begin by holding conversations with him, but most important of all by listening to him.
As we get to know him more deeply, love will gradually begin to grow slowly but surely. However there will be no genuine progress until our perseverance begins to demonstrate that we are turning to God in genuine love, not just for what we get out of him. Then we will begin to receive as never before, because we have never acted so selflessly towards God before
The Focal Point of Prayer
For some, prayer begins by turning to God in himself, whilst others prefer to turn to him as embodied in the human nature of Jesus Christ. Most people, who pray seriously do both, emphasizing one approach then another, as their spiritual life unfolds for reasons that will become apparent.
Four principal things have to be learnt, if prayer is going to grow and blossom into what it is meant to be. Firstly Speaking with God, secondly listening to God thirdly Receiving from God and fourthly Giving for God. I will deal with each of them in turn.