What do we mean by the phrase “Experience of God”
It is one thing to “know” about something, or someone. This could be something as simple as a story, a rumor, or a true event that happened to an individual that you are hearing about. This happens almost every day in just reading the paper or listening to the radio or television. We hear and see a lot of things over the course of our day, but that does not mean we “experience” the event, or the person involved. Without the “experience”, these are and will forever remain stories, rumors, or events that will be stored somewhere in our minds only to be pulled out later if needed. God wants more than that from us. God wants a relationship with us, and that means we must be open to God’s presence in our lives and let our experiences with God help build that relationship and speak to our faith.
When we hear about people, we may form opinions of them, but without any direct interaction to form an “experience” with this person, we will not have the opportunity to engage at a deeper level, to understand that person (or think we do), and potentially establish a relationship based on our encounters with this person. God is the same way. God wants to build an ongoing and eternal relationship with us, but we need to be active participants in this process. How do we do that? We open ourselves up to God, we learn about God and look for his message in scripture, and most importantly we look for his presence in our day and open ourselves to His actions in our lives bringing these to prayer to help us to reflect and understand the experience and what it means to us. Sounds simple right, but it is not always that easy. There are several factors that contribute to us “experiencing” God.
I think one of the primary challenges in experiencing God is that as humans we usually feel we need to understand an encounter. Many people find it difficult albeit impossible to grasp the encounter unless they fully understand it. My experience with God is and always has been once you think you understand God, He tends to “move the goalpost” and I am left standing there asking myself ‘What just happened?” It is not possible for us to grasp or understand our God completely. God transcends the limits of our thoughts. Much of our experience with God is mysterious and that is ok and quite normal. There are so many things that we may not understand with or about God, but this is what faith is all about. Can anyone honestly say they understand fully the Trinity? How can God be three different things, three persons based on our limited understanding. As believers we just accept that there is a Trinity even though much of this is a mystery to us. It is these mysteries, thoughts, feelings that we must bring to prayer. Prayer is the vehicle in which we explore all these things. Prayer is the vehicle in which we speak to and hear from God. Prayer is the way to build on our encounters to experience and enter relationship with God. Do not underestimate the power of prayer and how it will transform your experiences and your relationship with God.
At times people may categorize an experience as a “religious experience”, or a “Christian experience”, but neither of those terms speak to a true experience with God. Both of the terms are contained within the boundaries of our own minds, i.e. “religious experience” is very vague and does not accurately describe a true encounter leading to an experience of God. Equally, a “Christian experience” is very limiting in that it is based on the teachings, the sacraments, and/or the rituals of the Church.
A key part of experiencing God is based on many thoughts, ideas, and perspectives in our lives. We bring these to many situations in our lives. A great example is how we may interpret a reading or an encounter. Two people can have the same encounter yet walk away with two very different experiences of that encounter. I remember reading Job and thinking to myself, “Wow God give this guy a break, will you?”, but many people may come away with a very different perspective, i.e. Job deserved some/all of that suffering. The perspectives are colored by the experiences we have had in our lives, so we bring these pre-conceived notions into all of our experiences including our experiences with God. There are also some experiences that contribute to our interpretation that even we may not be able to understand and/or communicate. We bring who we are to these encounters and this creates a different experience for each of us. God calls us by name, so why is it difficult to think our experiences would be different?