In God’s Presence (Video Script)
Throughout the ages in all cultures, individuals have described the experience of mystical union with God, or even being in the presence of God. Moses spoke with God on the mountain in the form of a burning bush. For centuries Suffi mystics have engaged in ritual cleansing, repetition of the names of God, and dervish dancing to alter consciousness and enter the presence of the divine.
Some Christian mystics, such as the 17th century German theologian Jacob Boehme, had visions and mystical encounters from childhood. Yet for years Boehme struggled with feelings of isolation from the divine that strongly motivated his search for God. Similarly, many of the best-documented cases in the mystical literature involve strong dedication in relentless pursuit of God’s presence.
Naturally the question arises, why must we search for God at all? Why does God seem hidden? Shouldn’t the presence of God be obvious and ubiquitous? Why do we feel such separation from God and from others? If there is a God, why is it so difficult to experience the presence of God directly?
You will recall the creation story discussed in previous lessons. In the beginning, in spirit that is, all souls were in the immediate presence of God. By choice some souls rebelled. Hence the creation of the physical universe as a school for souls to grow and develop as companions to each other and the Creator.
The awareness of separation from the divine is based on the dynamics of relationship. Some space is good for relationship. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Thus we exist in a purposeful universe created for soul development leading to the re-establishment of full companionship with God.
Although we are all still part of God, there is a barrier – a closed door as it were – that maintains the sense of separation. With the opening of that closed door in consciousness, we are again presented with the opportunity to be in the presence of God, to experience mystical union with the divine.
In his classic study of mysticism, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, the father of American psychology, described four central qualities of the mystical encounter:
- Ineffability – the experience is beyond words and “defies expression”
- Noetic Quality – there are “illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance”
- Transiency – Mystical experiences tend to be brief. “Except in rare instances, half and hour, or at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day.”
- And Passivity – “the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power”
In recent years neuroscientists have explored the biological dimension of mystical encounters involving the presence of God. For example, stimulation of the certain areas of the brain – by sound, magnetic fields, or chemicals – has resulted in reports of mystical states such as a sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room" or the experience of God. A modified snowmobile helmet, called the God Helmet, has been used in research and marketed commercially for just such effects.
Neuroimaging technology has been used to track brain cell activity during religious states of consciousness and also lends some credence to the idea that mystical experiences have a physical dimension. Not surprisingly, some materialistically oriented scientists have claimed that such “neurotheology” merely indicates that mystical or religious experiences are an illusion within the brain. Thus the experience of the presence of God is reduced to brain chemistry.
Curiously, it was Aldous Huxley who first used the term “neurotheology” in one of his novels. You remember Huxley – the author and philosopher who experimented with psychedelics to produce mystical states. It was Huxley who suggested that a normal, healthy brain functions like a closed plumbing valve that prevents mental overload from mystical realms.
Actually all this interest in the brain and spirituality is relevant to the search for God. Rather than reducing mind to brain activity, the Cayce readings insist that the mind uses the brain. Thus scientific findings linking spiritual experiences to brain activity and interventions that alter brain functioning – are exactly what we would expect to find.
Furthermore, the soul does manifest through the anatomy and physiology of the body – through spiritual centers associated with glands and nerves, in the brain and throughout the entire body. These spiritual centers have been called by various names, including chakras in some yogic traditions.
Through deep meditation and other spiritual practices these centers can be awakened to their spiritual purpose. With this awakening, we may come into the presence of God, as mystics have done throughout the ages.
Just as Moses experienced the presence of God in a burning bush atop a mountain, even common everyday people sometimes have “mountain top experiences” – peak experiences of transcendent quality. With regular daily practice of spirituality – prayer, meditation, and application in service to others – the experience of an ABIDING presence of God is available.
Many individuals do sometimes have powerful mystical experiences during deep meditation. Like the Cayce readings, the great masters in the spiritual traditions of the world have consistently maintained that such transcendent experiences are not to be sought directly, but should come naturally as a result of spiritual application. Then they are signs along the way, rather than distractions that hinder progress.
Thus the presence of God is not necessarily an overwhelming sensory experience like a burning bush. It may be the still small voice that can be heard during the silence of meditation. With practice in our daily relations with others, this still small voice can even be heard during normal waking consciousness in the midst of life.
The presence of God is not a thing apart from our daily lives. For it is in our daily relationships with others that the presence of God can be most directly experienced. When you look into the eyes of another human, you are looking into the eyes of God. How you treat that person is how you treat God. Certainly we have covered this before, but it bears repeating.
The sense of knowing oneself to be oneself and yet one with God – closer to the companionship with the divine that existed before (or outside) the descent into materiality – this is the practice of the presence of God. We are always in the presence of the divine, if we will only awaken to that reality. The practice of the presence of God in our daily lives, as it affects the lives of others in a positive way, is the most profound expression of being in God’s presence.
Not just powerful mystical experiences, or mountain top experiences, which may or may not happen frequently or at all, but the everyday awareness of soulness, practiced in patience, awakened by choices made each day, leads to the dawning of the universal consciousness that lies dormant within each soul.