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  • Writer's pictureRichard Southworth

A Prayer of Our Own: Reflection I: Opening To The Divine Mystery

Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

The right attitude toward God is essential to one’s progress on the Spiritual Journey.

Father Thomas KeatingA Prayer of Our Own: Preface

This is taken from the Reflection I of the book I am currently writing. For more information about the book please see:

NASA Image of the Faintest Galaxy from the Early Universe

Richard’s Answer To Question #1

Is there a God? What is God for me? Who is God for me? How do I know? Am I open to bringing these important questions into my prayer? Am I open to the possibility of my answers to these questions being transformed and growing ever deeper?

My Spiritual Director once asked me, “Who is God for you?” I responded “God is a Mysterious Other that permeates the universe, including me.” She then asked me, “Is that enough?” I responded, “It is the only thing that is enough!” That is still my answer today. I have some ideas beyond that, but in the end this is all I really know. Best I can tell, it is all that is possible to know. Even that requires that we accept a knowledge that comes from deep inside us and cannot be proved scientifically.

First let me say that I do believe there is a God. I do not believe that God is a person or anything like a person. For me it just makes no sense to think of God as a person. It raises too many other questions for me. If I try to see God as a person, I am immediately faced with the question of where this person resides. If I try to answer that by saying that God resides in heaven I essentially beg the question “where is heaven”? And how does this person interact with each of us individually as we claim? How is that even possible? Many of us blow those kinds of questions off with an answer similar to “because “he” is God. For me that again begs the question “Is God a person?” and prevents us from looking at that question in a deeper, more open way. It also leads us to start assigning various human attitudes to God which in the end leads us to all kinds of other problems and conflicts. For me it is much more honest to “just say no”, God is not a person. At least then I can be open to the possibility of a deepening understanding of God.

In the end I believe that God is to be found somehow woven into the fabric of creation itself, into consciousness itself, and into the force that creates, animates, and guides the entire universe including us. I believe that through spiritual practice and specifically through prayer and contemplation we can connect with that Mysterious Presence in us and receive guidance, strength, and courage from that force. I believe that our job, “if we choose to accept it”, is ultimately to connect with that force and to live our lives in response to that force. Said another way, we are called to listen to our own sacred inner voice where that mysterious presence we call God speaks to us, discover how that voice calls us to live our lives, and to incarnate those discoveries into the way we actually experience and live our lives. As the monastics put it, we are called to divine union. Ultimately this process of discovery and incarnation must be one of the primary reasons we pray. If we are open, it becomes the way we live our lives.

I want to be clear here. I realize this explanation raises more questions than it answers, but for me it seems a much more honest approach. Besides I know that approach works for me. It changes my life. I am not hiding behind canned explanations. I remain open to deepening my understanding, and even to changing it completely based on new evidence and new experiences, or if that still small voice calls me to.

Yet, beyond all of this reasoning and all of this speculation about what God is or is not, my understanding is ultimately based on personal experience. Jacob Needleman starts his book, What Is God? with this story:

Out of the corner of my eye I saw that my father was still looking up. And so I kept my gaze upward, noticing the stars, some of which formed into constellations whose names I knew. Imitating my father, I kept my gaze upward, just looking.

And suddenly, incomprehensibly, all at once, despite the heavy summer air that always absorbs most of the starlight--suddenly, as if by magic, the black sky was instantly strewn with millions of stars. Millions of points of light. Millions of worlds. Never, before or since, have I seen such a night sky, not even in remote mountains on clear nights. It was not simply that my eyes had become normally adjusted to the darkness; it was as though an entirely new instrument of seeing had all at once been switched on within me. Or, as it also seemed, as though the whole universe itself suddenly opened its arms to me, saying to me: "Yes, I am here. See, this is what I really am! Do you like my beautiful garment?" …

My eyes stayed riveted on the millions of stars, the millions of tiny stars with hardly a black space between them.

I wondered about my father, but I didn't dare turn my head to look at him, afraid that these millions of worlds might somehow not be there when I turned back to them.

I don't know how long we both continued to sit there, silently. But finally, speaking in a voice that I had never heard from him before, he said::"That's God.”

In a very real sense that is my God too. It reaches past all of the science, all of the reason, all of the culture, and all of the religion to personal experience, and yet it draws on all of those sources. In these and other similar experiences, in times of silence and solitude, and yes, in times of prayer, the Mysterious Other I call God is just there, present in a way that transcends all of the questions and explanations. In the end God is simply a presence I experience in those special times.

For me that mysterious presence is God. I find that mystery absolutely fascinating and exploring that mystery excites me and gives my life meaning. That mystery is much more fascinating and exciting than any of the more traditional images or traditional theology. Precisely because the “God question” is such a profound mystery I am open to all of the awesome insights provided by science, by reason, by all of the cultures of the world, and by all of the religions of the world. I am open to all of the fascinating answers provided by all of those sources. Because I can see so many wondrous possibilities I look forward with anticipation to new discoveries, new insights, and to an ever deepening sense of that Mysterious Presence in my life and in this awesome universe.

In the meantime I am still very comfortable with the answer I gave my spiritual director years ago. “God is a Mysterious Other that permeates the universe, including me,” and yes “It is [still] the only thing that is enough!”

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Oct 16, 2021

Dick....I like this. I, too, have no image of God in my mind, and yet, I see His presence is so many ways.

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