The Divine Hug: Beyond Faith or Reason

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Faith and Reason. Read other perspectives here.

To me, the dichotomy between faith and reason is artificial. Both are two sides of the same coin, efforts of the human mind to touch the divine. They are useful tools, but as activities of the brain, both are limited.

Faith, in its most simplistic form, is merely an effort of the human mind to believe. When I was a child, I thought if I had enough faith, believed hard enough, I could fly. I'd stand on the edge of the couch arms outstretched, then fall into space. Always, at the last second, I'd panic and my feet would drop to the ground under me. To me, my failure proved, not that humans can't fly, but that I didn't believe hard enough.

Faith is a useful tool in opening our hearts and articulating our values and hopes. Our effort to have faith proves our authentic yearning for the Divine. When we acknowledge a power greater than ourselves, we release a little of our selfishness and ego. We let go a little of our fears — our greatest obstacle to happiness — as we practice trusting. We humbly acknowledge that much of human experience is still a mystery. This effort alone cannot connect us to the divine, but helps create a receptive state of consciousness.

However, faith, which is merely a strong wish or a belief, can also complicate our spiritual journey. We might become confused, blame ourselves, or doubt our worth when our prayers are not answered. We might use our "faith," our trust in "God's will" or "a greater plan" to ignore, deny, or sublimate our grief over the world's great sufferings and injustices. Instead of facing fears, taking action, or confronting injustice, we might just wish harder.

Spiritual reasoning is also a useful and flawed strategy. For many years, my primary spiritual practice was writing in my journal, reflecting on the nature of God. I would usually read spiritual texts and, in writing, apply the principles I'd learn there to whatever problem had recently arisen. Throughout the day, I'd revisit my spiritual arguments.

In many ways, this process served me. When I was stuck in some endless loop of fear and repetitive thinking, spiritual reasoning broke the cycle. Reasoning from the nature of an all-loving, intelligent God softened my fears. It encouraged kindness. My process gave a structure and system to my prayers, which had the side effect of helping me to think and live in a more orderly way. Occasionally, I would have a genuine revelation, which shifted my perspective and made room for real healing.

However, sometimes my reasoning was nothing more than an exercise, logical on paper, but with no effect on my pained heart. Reason, as an exercise of the human brain, is always limited. The brain can never fully see outside the constraints of its narrow senses and flawed circuitry. We are ignorant even about the motivations of our own behavior, so we certainly don't have the capacity to fully grasp divine reality.

What's the answer then? If neither faith nor reason are adequate paths to the divine, how do we get there? This is an ongoing journey for me, and I continue to answer that question in different ways. Although I still think positively and write in my journal and read spiritual texts and reason about the nature of God, currently my most powerful spiritual practice is The Hug.

Every day, I try to spend time with God. But in a very particular way. During The Hug, I don't come to God with any complaints or requests. I don't doubt myself or make promises to improve. Instead, I feel Love's arms around me in an embrace. I lean against Love's chest. We just have time together — like a vacation with your best, most trusted friend, or a leisurely weekend with your beloved. No expectations. Just gratitude and wonder that you have this time together. If my mind gets busy worrying, I just notice, let go, and feel The Hug — lean into it. I don't try to believe anything. I don't reason through any complicated spiritual questions. I don't ask for anything. I just get hugged. I hug back.

I don't think this is merely a visualization. I think this is coming into an attunement, in the present moment, with the Love who is always with us. This is not an activity that happens in the brain; it happens with our whole being.

Ironically, when I am fully in the presence of Love, without striving or trying to solve anything, sometimes my normal reasoning breaks open and I receive answers to my concerns. I might suddenly have a fresh idea for a work problem. Or I realize a friend is in need and see how to help. I might have some clarity about my future direction. Or notice some train of thought that hasn't been serving me.

To me, something much bigger is happening in those moments than the earnest, but limited efforts of my brain to reach out and touch God. Instead, I come into union with Love, and Love itself generates faith. Love itself generates understanding. Inspiration, revelation, and wisdom do not arise only from our efforts, but blossoms naturally when we come into union with God. Want to feel closer to God? Less doleful trying. More joyful hugging.