I love the idea that our senses are the doorway to the soul. So, it is through our touching and tasting, our listening and seeing, even our smelling and our sense of our own body that we encounter God. The bottom line is, we are people of the Incarnation and it is through being incarnate – having bodies – that we encounter each other and God.
I recently spent a day facilitating a workshop in the Jesuit Centre for Spirituality and Culture in Galway. Those present are all involved in ministry as spiritual directors and prayer guides – lay women, religious sisters, Jesuit and diocesan priests.
A central theme of our day was encounter – how people encounter God in everyday life. It is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. In my last column I wrote about how important that encounter is but I have been thinking that I need to tease out more what I mean.
I talk a lot about God being at the heart of family life but we don’t literally bump into God in the kitchen or trip over God in the playroom – it isn’t that explicit. So, what is it then? Well, we believe that God is the source of all goodness and beauty, all love and mercy, all life and all of creation.
All of these come from God and for that very reason, every time we encounter goodness, love, beauty, mercy, all that is life-giving, each aspect of creation, we are encountering God. So, the love within a family is an echo, an incarnation, a making real, of God’s love.
When we are confronted with the wonder of the created world we are confronted with the wonder of God as Creator. Every experience of hope, of courage, of generosity and selflessness, of beauty and goodness offers us an experience of God.
This is why Pope Francis so often urges us to pay attention to the details of life – because in the detail is the divine. Every small gesture, each loving tenderness, each mundane task completed in love puts form and flesh on God’s love for us.
That is why when we begin to notice those details, we become more aware of and more in awe of how much love and blessing surround us even in situations of challenge and struggle. For some reason, noticing seems to cause blessings to multiply – and with it our gratitude.
So, it is in the ordinary everyday that we encounter God but there is more. God’s desire to be with us, to know us face to face meant that from the beginning Jesus would become one like us. The Gospels are our doorway. Again, it is through our sense that the encounter will happen. St Ignatius urged people to approach Scripture in a very embodied way – to allow imagination to take us into that place and time, to touch and taste, see, hear and smell, to allow ourselves to be present. If senses are the doorway to the soul then imagination is the bridge between experience and understanding. Imagination lifts the words of Scripture off the page and through the action of the Holy Spirit allows them to become full of life and power and meaning.
We are invited to wonder our way into the Gospel. Wonder how it would feel to be there, to stand in the crowd listening to Jesus. Wonder how people are reacting to him, how you are reacting. Wonder how you would respond if he spoke to you – and where your conversation would take you. Wondering allows us to meet Jesus in Scripture in a way that is powerful and personal. If you need help – ask a child to wonder with you!
We are all invited into that encounter with God so that our faith is rooted in experience that God is indeed the one in whom we live and move and have our being.