Beginnings and Endings: Concluding Thoughts on Knowing God

Well, friends, today this long series on knowing God comes to end. We’ve covered a lot of ground since November. In the first post in this series, I described why I feel this is important, and it seems as good a place to begin today’s reflections as any:

No matter what spiritual language I was learning or dialect of Christianity I was speaking, and in hindsight, even the times when I couldn’t ‘speak’ at all, I knew there was something beyond the simple material of the world. That something or Someone wants to be known and, more importantly, can be known. All of these ways of talking about God offer their own insights, approaches, understandings, and tools. And I have become convinced that by engaging with as many as we can — with grace, gratitude, and humility — the fuller our experience of God can be.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that the point? I don’t want to skim the surface of the experience of God as a religious dilettante, nor do I want to explore the depths only of my own comfortable little cove.

I want the whole ocean. I want the Abyss. Nothing less is good enough. Because nothing less is God.

Amen.

In a way this whole series has been about the relationship between the map and the territory. We’ve looked at a lot of maps: linguistic and philosophical maps, Scriptural maps of paradigmatic encounters with God, historical maps from the mystical tradition, and contemporary maps provided by thinkers seeking to integrate and unify these maps with those provided by journeyers and map-makers all around the world, across cultures and time.

There have been common threads in all of these: the paradox and problems of finite beings encountering an Infinite God, and the complicated interrelationships of grace and action, being and becoming, and the universal and the particular, to name just a few. And yet, as beautiful as the commonalities in people’s experiences of knowing God are, each of these experiences remains unique. And so, as helpful as maps are, we can’t rely on them alone.

Great philosophers, mystics, and theologians can only take us so far. Our maps are of great benefit, but they are not the journey, and far less are they the territory. The wisdom of the ages can lead us to base camp and give us the tools we need to survive in the wilderness, but the real journey is for us — each of us — to undertake.

The question is: how far will we go?

There are so many unknowns. This pandemic year has been a great illustration of just how much really is out of our control, and how much of the control we do have is contingent. We don’t choose the times in which we live, but we are called to live in them, as best as we can. The seasons of our lives may be calm or stormy, the skies may be so clear we can see for miles ahead, or so foggy we can only see the next cautious step before us. The road may be wide and straight, or rugged and winding. But still we are called to journey on, no matter the weather, no matter the terrain.

And even if we’ve been on the journey all our lives, we always start afresh, as beginners, every day. Because, no matter how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned along the way, each new day offers us fresh challenges and opportunities — each new day requires us to make the choice to keep walking, to take that next step. Every day with God is an adventure. And that requires a leap into faith. It requires risk. It requires strength. It requires creativity. It requires faith.

There’s been a lot of talk during this pandemic year of being “alone together.” And I think it applies beautifully to everything we’ve been talking about the past few months about knowing God. We are alone on this journey because each one of us needs to undertake it for ourselves. And yet we are together on this journey because of all the map-makers who have journeyed before us, and all those who are journeying with and alongside us.

And, so, in the words of one long-ago anonymous apostle,

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that trips us up, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith … Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Heb 12.1-3)

May we all have the longing, the energy, the tools, and the perseverance to travel far along this journey of faith and to dive deep into the Abyss of knowing God. Amen.

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