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.