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All Good Things
February 22, 2024

Sensing God Without Words

O Parvardigari,¹ the Preserver and Protector of all

Without beginning are you Lord without end

Non-dual, beyond compare, and none can measure You

Without color, expression, or form, nor attributes to lend

You are unlimited and none can plumb your depths

Impenetrable, beyond conception by our minds

None can divide you, oh God you are eternal

None can see you but with eyes divine

Deeply personal relationships with God seem to constantly evolve and expand. How do we know this? Ask, just ask people. It is a gift when others share their spiritual journeys. We talk about music, sports or current events. Why not spiritual journeys? During Advent, we were treated to reflections on personal relationships with Jesus. Reading these reflections, I learn once again, there’s a million ways to communicate with God. Some without words.

As children, we are guided into a world of words. By learning to speak, read and write words, we connect. We connect with God by reciting prayers in a comforting cadence of repetition. For many, this was the beginning of our spiritual journey.

The journey then walks trails, climbs mountains, and crosses rivers. Not always with a compass, direction, or GPS. Sometimes we veer off into la noche oscura del alma and the picture dims. Maybe this interruption gives a necessary perspective, just so we can look back and see the extra pair of footprints in the sand. Well worth a detour or the occasional flat tire. Can we learn from being lost? Is it helpful to feel forsaken? We are in good company.

Eventually words fall short for me, for destination God is unknowable, beyond conception by our minds. When God feels unknowable, when our intellect cannot process everything, when my own mind gets in the way, it is time to move beyond words.

Apophatic is a big word that means no words. Apophatic prayer has no content. It means emptying the mind of ideas and simply resting in the presence of God. This method of praying does not use images, requests, intercessions, and rituals. It involves the quieting of one’s spirit and the settling into the essence of being, which allows one to be found in the presence of God.²

I need ways of supplementing verbal prayers when words fall short. The feeling of all talk and no action is something I am prone to. Faith without works fizzles. When the ratio of words to action is out of balance, it is time to move a muscle and change a thought. It has been suggested that prayer can be listening to others, performing service, and daily work. All can help in emptying the mind so God can fill the vacuum. St. Francis teaches us that work is prayer. Helping the other takes us out of ourselves and gives union with others. I’ve rarely been accused of talking too little and doing too much!!

For me, sensing God is not an intellectual process, but a physical state that only motion and interaction with others can achieve. The desire to explain the sensation decreases when it becomes obvious that words are insufficient. Service increases the chances and reduces the noise that words and internal conversations create. I have been told that the process of maintaining a sense of God requires daily efforts and maybe unsustainable. That’s okay. The experience is fleeting - not every day or week. But occasional glimpses make it all worthwhile.

In the end, when the teachings and sermons were complete, an empty tomb was needed for us to experience the Presence. No more words plural. Just the Word.

Here at St. Francis College, we are uniquely fortunate to experience a student body representing approximately 35 faiths. Few places have this privilege. Through Mission Ministry and Interfaith Dialogue, we can listen, learn and serve. Over the course of Lent, find someone who looks at the world differently and ask if you can borrow their glasses. That’s why we are here together.

Bob Justich
Senior Adjunct Lecturer, St. Francis College


¹ Parvardigar is an Urdu word for Lord.


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