1: the Unknowing

(About 14 years ago, shortly after the Easter Vigil when I entered the Church, about two weeks into starting contemplation)

It was spring when I started doing contemplation, and in Denver, spring can be a raging blizzard one day and seventy-five degrees the next.  It had been cold that spring and I used to always go to the church during the noon hour to do contemplation, because all the staff had lunch together and I knew I had a block of time when the church would be basically empty.  It was very quiet then, warm, peaceful and safe.  This lasted about a week or so.

One day I came in and all the windows were open and the children from the school were out in the parking lot playing.  The noise from the children was quite loud and I thought maybe I would go close all the windows or change my time to after or before lunch hour.  Then I thought, “No.  This will be good practice for me to learn to concentrate.”

So, I did my “pre-contemplation” prayers and composed myself on the bench and closed my eyes.  A few seconds later I realized that it had suddenly gone silent.  What happened?  What could have suddenly gotten every one of those children to be totally silent?  Had something frightening appeared in the playground?  I opened my eyes and in my line of sight was the clock at the end of the church facing the sanctuary, the clock with the large face so that Father can keep an eye on the time during Mass.

I had closed my eyes and opened my eyes and 27 minutes had passed. 

It freaked me out a little bit.  I thought what some of you might be thinking, could I have fallen asleep, I asked myself.  Nope. The chance of me falling asleep sitting bolt upright on a hard wooden bench doesn't even approach slim.  I was in precisely the same position, head up, as when I began.  Besides, I know what it feels like to fall asleep and wake up, I didn’t feel like that.  How did I feel?

Like I’d been gone.   I felt as if I had been “taken into eternity,” which is how I came to characterize it.  I had simply disappeared into God. Close eyes, open eyes.  That’s all.   This became a pattern, this being gone.  The result of that was that I would “know stuff.”  That first time, what I knew was that God was not Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though He is that, also.  But that God was …. beyond.  Beyond any possible limits of the universe.  So far away that the idea of distance becomes irrelevant.  So close, it takes less than a moment to reach Him.  Beyond any kind of idea we can ever have of Him.  Beyond being a “Him” or an anything at all that we can imagine.  And somehow, this knowing I had no idea what God is, imparted an even greater certainty in me that God is absolutely real.  More real than the keyboard I type on, more real than any thing I can name or see.   

And I knew what I knew was true and it kind of scared me because what is that? Am I even allowed to think that? But what could I do?  I did think that, know it. 

I knew something else, that didn't scare me, but would have if someone had explained it before it happened: I was gone.  I don't think my physical body disappeared (though in fact I wouldn't know if it had) but that the "I" - the "me" - disappeared into the One.  The perfect peace, all knowing, wonder of God.  And if this is my fate at death, to be eternally lost as individual but oned with God, I am all for it.

Of course, this is one of the reasons having a spiritual director can be a good thing.   While this revelation was new to me, it was not different from what mystics have been saying for all time.  And any way that we each have of  configuring the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of God in our minds is probably as accurate as any way anyone does and none of that comes close to describing or conceptualizing God.  But I wonder if this is why having a spiritual director can be a drawback?  I didn't have anyone to rush off to tell and have this explained to me.  I only had one option: to go back to the Source, again and again and to trust the information downloads and to look more and more deeply into the Spiritual theology of the Church. 

In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. … “God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself.  A word will never be able to comprehend the voice that utters it.”
                                              --Thomas Merton