What does it mean to “know” God?
There’s a nice passage that we like to quote and send to people and post on our Facebook pages: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psa 46:10 NIV)
But perhaps you’re like me and you’ve struggled with the concept of “knowing” God. Perhaps you were told that you ought to know God, but when you look around, you can’t see him, you can’t feel him, you can’t hear his voice; you can’t see any evidence of his existence.
That was pretty much my experience, so I embarked on a journey where I resolved that I would either end up being an atheist or I would find God and some days I don’t know whether I’m going mad or whether I’m busy attaining enlightenment and perhaps by the end of this article you’ll think I’m mad too. But I think perhaps it’s a little bit of both, hopefully more of the latter, but at this point I can relate a lot with something that the Sufi Mystic, Rumi said: “I looked in temples, churches and mosques, but I found the divine within my heart.”
I can relate with this because the more I’ve searched and read and pondered these things – all the while searching for the divine – the more I’ve turned inwards and discovered that the divine has been in me all along.
The concept of the divine indwelling isn’t foreign to Christian thought; Jesus himself said that “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luk 17:21 NIV) and Paul often referred to people, not buildings, as being the temple of God, but the way I always understood it in a Christian context is that God is something other than me, a being who somehow lives in me, but is still separate from me, but there’s more to it. In our vocabulary, the word “know” demands that there be a subject and an object – the knower and the known, in this case me, the “knower” and God, the “known”, but what if knowing in it’s truest sense means that any supposed boundary between the so-called knower and the known disappears and there is only the knowing?
This might be hard to grasp, so a good image to use here would be that of sex. As a father of two sons, I do worry about my sons growing up in a world where sex has become an object that can easily be attained via the click of a button and I’m not sitting on a high horse here, telling you not to watch porn; I’ve watched a truckload of porn in my life and I can tell you from my experience that when “I”, the subject begin to view “you” as the object, my perception of healthy sexuality becomes warped, because during sexual intercourse in it’s healthiest form, any supposed boundary between subject and object is supposed to disappear – the two become one; there is no longer an ego that separates, dominates or tries to possess the other as an object; we are completely naked and vulnerable – we “know” each other.
And so it is with God – the moment God becomes an object to be grasped, God ceases to be God. True union implies that there is no boundary between subject and object.
This brings me back to “be still and know that I am God”. This will also explain why meditation has been the cornerstone of many spiritual traditions. A major concept in Buddhist philosophy is that of non-duality, which means that there is no real separation between anything except for an illusion of separation created by the mind in the form of concepts such as man and woman for instance, but during sex in it’s healthiest form those boundaries dissapear and the two become one, or technically, non-dual.
The same is true of meditation. Meditation is aimed at getting the mind to shut up – “be still and know that I am God”, but this kind of knowing is not a cognitive knowing, as the mind is supposed to be still. Often times during sex, the mind gets involved – you think about it – “am I doing this right?”, “is my partner enjoying it?” etc. and this can mess up the experience, because you’re thinking about the experience instead of just being the experience, but then there are other moments where the mind shuts up and you lose yourself in the experience and that’s where the real magic happens.
This is where I believe Christianity falls short for not putting a big enough emphasis on stillness. There’s lots of singing, praying, talking and preaching – trying to explain God using ideas, concepts and categories; trying to figure God out; trying to “know” God in a cognitive sense – but not enough of just being still and this is why I don’t believe that many Christians have experienced true union or enlightenment, but by incorporating stillness into our faith, we might.
I am a chronic over-thinker and although I’ve been practicing meditation for a while now, I rarely get my mind to shut up and it still trips me up all the time, which is why I am writing about this, because I know all too well how crippling the mind can be. But there have been brief moments where I’ve managed to find a place of stillness within myself and it is in those moments – much more than in moments where I’ve been in church, prayed or been prayed for – that I have felt closest to God, but when I talk about God, I’m no longer talking about a being or a person that is somehow separate from me, but rather, the eternal energy of the universe that has no beginning and no end and the totality of which exists inside me. In those moments I realise how small I am, but at the same time how big I am. In those moments, I am still and I know that I am God, but this is not some kind of arrogant assumption that I, as in, my individual self is the creator and ruler of the universe; rather, it is the realisation that God / the Universe finds expression through me in a unique way. This, I believe, is what enlightenment is – it is the humble realisation that “I” am not the center of the universe, but that I am in it and it is in me or as Thomas Merton wrote: “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him”