Want to Experience God? You Already Have

Huffington Post, over the next few weeks, will be excerpting a chapter from my book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, on the question of experiencing God in our desires and longings.  Many people say that they wish that they had a personal experience of God....

"I could believe in God if I only experienced God."


If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that sincere and heartfelt statement, I'd be a rich guy. (Well, actually I'd have to give the money to my religious community since I take a vow of poverty, but you get the general idea.)

Many people today -- seekers, agnostics, atheists -- find it difficult to believe in God for many reasons. First is the suffering they see in the world. How could a good God let people suffer, especially, they say, children and victims of natural disasters? Second is the evil and mendacity that they see in religion, like the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

But the third reason is that they feel that they have had no real experience of God. Even many otherwise religious people feel that they've never had a "direct" experience of God.  I think many people have, but they're just not aware of it, or they dismiss it as "something else." Or they're not encouraged to talk about it in spiritual terms.

One of the most basic ways of experiencing God is experiencing a desire for God. Desire often gets a bad rap in spiritual circles, but it is an essential part of spirituality, because desire is a key way that God's voice is heard in our lives. Our deepest desire, planted within us, is our desire for God. And it's God who plants those desires within us, as one way of drawing us to the divine.

Maybe you're surprised by the notion that everyone has an innate desire for God. If you're an agnostic, you might believe that intellectually but haven't had experiences yourself. If you're an atheist, you might flat-out disbelieve it.

So for the disbelieving, the doubtful, and the curious (and everyone else, for that matter), let's look at how these holy desires manifest themselves in everyday life. What do they look like? What do they feel like? How can you become aware of your desire for God?  Over the next few days and weeks I'm going to talk about some of the most common ways that our holy desires reveal themselves in our daily lives. As you read, you might take a moment and consider which have been at work in your own life.

The first is incompletion.

Read how here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Todd Scribner
8 years 5 months ago
It is a tough crowd over there at HuffingtonPost; the comments section are not all that friendly toward Fr. Martin's way of looking at things, partly because I think they misunderstand (or maybe it is I that do) his point. The claim that our feeling of incompleteness is a sign pointing us in the direction of God is not intended as an argument for God's existence, but merely a possibility and perhaps a challenge. To take seriously this possibility, even if only at first as an introspective exercise, forces us to examine a deeply (or shallowly, as the case may be)felt sense of longing that might in turn open the door a crack, and in doing so nudge us in the direction of the recognition of God. Shutting oneself off from the mere possibility merely short circuits the process from the start.
Brendan McGrath
8 years 5 months ago
This is a wonderful reflection, Fr. Martin!  It's also wonderful that you're able to share it with an audience like that of the Huffington Post.
I too looked at the comments at the Huffington Post; it's rather depressing, for so many reasons - one of which is that they seem to miss completely the fact that Fr. Martin and other writers from "America" (or "Commonweal," etc.) are what they might normally think of as "the good guys," i.e., more "liberal" Catholics.  I cringe to type that last line because I know it's over-simplifying and to some extent a misrepresentation, but I think my point should be clear: they're looking at Fr. Martin and lumping him together in their minds with fundamentalists, more conservative Christians, etc.  They're seeing religion, Christianity, and/or Catholicism as monolithic and failing to see the diversity within it.  It would be like somone greeting, say, Dennis Kucinich with scorn because they've lumped him together with George W. Bush as "American."
Brian Killian
8 years 5 months ago
It's opportune for me that you should be writing about this subject Fr. Martin, because it's been on my mind a lot recently. I'm not satisfied by what seems like the absence of an experience of God, but I know that I must have some knowledge of him, otherwise I wouldn't be seeking a stronger experience (''we can't love what we don't know'' St. Augustine said). 
The problem is how do I single out that specific quality and distinguish it from all the other qualities that I experience every day? How do I put my finger on that quality and say ''yeah...that's the God quality right there''? Or, ''yep, that's the Holy Spirit for sure.''
Without this ability to distinguish, I feel like I can't properly verify my faith. If we are made in the image of a reasonable God, a God who loves truth, and is truth, then surely it's reasonable that there should be some kind of ''evidence'' or verification to help us judge whether or not the claims of Christianity are true.
The Church is the continued presence of God in history? OK, how do we test that? What is the quality of God's presence in the Church? If I knew that, I could verify it.
I am a believer, but I'm just not satisfied with my current faith life....something just seems to be missing.
I sometimes wonder if we still have access to the experience that drove the creation of the Gospels and the letters of St. Paul.


The latest from america

Father Michael Nixon and parishioner work a volunteer table at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Panama City, Fla. Photo by Atena Sherry.
Much like New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, the low-income neighborhoods east of Panama City, where St. Dominic is located, were especially hard-hit by the storm. Now residents here are desperate for help.
Atena SherryOctober 18, 2018
“I believe there are adequate, alternative options for true women’s health care out there, and Planned Parenthood is not needed,” said Alisha Fox, a health and wellness coach at a Catholic fertility center in Chicago.
Colleen ZeweOctober 18, 2018
 Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa checks out the name badge of Nathanael Lamataki, a youth delegate from the French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, as they leave a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Souraphiel highlighted the role globalization plays in connecting young people in unjust ways.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 18, 2018
The pope said he would visit North Korea “if an official invitation arrives.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 18, 2018