Experiencing God: Exaltation and Clarity

The fourth in a series on Huffington Post.

Atheists and non-believers probably won't believe this (or me), but I believe our desire for God comes from God and is one key way that God calls to us. (Even if you say that these desires are merely biological or psychological phenomena, I would say that God can use even these means as ways of attracting us.)

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Indeed, how else could God call to us if not interiorly?

But how do we become aware of our desires for God? So far we've looked at incompletioncommon longings and connections, and uncommon longings or "everyday mysticism." Let's look at two more ways: exaltation and clarity.

Exaltation

Similar to common and uncommon longings are times that might be best described not as ineffable desires or strong connections, but as times when one is "lifted up" or feels a sense of exaltation or happiness. Different from longing to know what it's all about, here you are feeling that you are very close to, about to meet, the object of your desire.

Here you may feel the warm satisfaction of being near God. You are in the middle of a prayer, or are in the middle of a worship service, or are listening to a piece of music, and suddenly you feel overwhelmed by feelings of beauty or clarity. We are lifted up and desire more.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was an English Jesuit priest and a poet renowned in the literary world for his creative use of language. In the religious world he is also renowned for his desire to find God in all things. In his poem "Pied Beauty," Hopkins evinces a love of God, nature, and wordplay. It is a prayer of exaltation:

Glory be to God for dappled things-- 
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings; 
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough; 
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim. 

All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 

Praise him.

Almost a century later, during a summer evening, the English poet W.H. Auden gathered together with his fellow teachers at the Downs School, when something unexpected happened to him. He describes it in the introduction to a book edited by Anne Fremantle called The Protestant Mystics:

One fine summer night in June 1933 I was sitting on a lawn after dinner with three colleagues, two women and one man. We liked each other well enough but we were certainly not intimate friends, nor had we any one of us a sexual interest in another. Incidentally, we had not drunk any alcohol. We were talking casually about everyday matters when, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, something happened. I felt myself invaded by a power which, though I consented to it, was irresistible and certainly not mine. For the first time in my life I knew exactly--because thanks to the power, I was doing it--what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself....My personal feelings toward them were unchanged--they were still colleagues, not intimate friends--but I felt their existence as themselves to be of infinite value and rejoiced in it.

Read the rest here.

James Martin, SJ

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