Have you ever had the feeling that God was missing in action? You feel the presence of God one moment, buoying your spirits, lightening your load. But the next day, or even a few moments later, the Divine has seemingly abandoned you, leaving you to deal with the challenges of life by yourself.
This feeling of abandonment isn’t unusual. It even struck the saintly Mother Teresa. For years, Teresa claimed she did not feel the presence of God in her life, only his absence. In her words “as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” But if you believe in God, and there’s no doubt that Mother Teresa did, it raises the question:
Where is God’s hiding place?
The answer may be found in a modern-day fable that has been told by Paulo Coelho and others. I’ll paraphrase it here. The story is about three sages who are tasked with hiding the secret of life from humankind. It goes like this:
One day the sages were discussing the secret of life and where they should hide it so that men and women could not find it.
Bury it under a mountain, one sage suggests. No, the others counter, they will find a way to dig up the mountain and uncover it.
Put the secret of life in the depths of the deepest ocean, another sage suggests. No, the others say, one day they will find a way to travel to the depths of the ocean and will find it there.
Put the secret inside them, suggests another, they will never think to look for it there. All the sages agreed, and so the secret of life was hidden within us.
Substitute “God” for “the secret of life”, and you can draw a direct line between the two, and it gets you wondering:
Could God’s secret hiding place be within us?
The idea that God is as close as our own breath has been sprinkled throughout the writings of the world’s great spiritual thinkers, often appearing as small diamonds within dense texts. The works of the 14th Century theologian Meister Eckhart can make for difficult reading, but one sentence of his speaks volumes:
No one has known God who has not known himself.
Know yourself and you will know God. What’s one to make of this? But the funny thing is this idea did not originate with Meister Eckhart. Almost a thousand years before him, one the world’s great philosophers had reached a similar conclusion. According to the Greek philosopher Socrates:
Our own self-knowledge is a knowledge of God.
If you take Paulo Cohelo’s tale of the three sages who hid the secret of life, and combine it with the thoughts of Eckhart and Socrates, you might make the following connections:
God is hiding within us.
The key to finding God is to know ourselves.
When we know ourselves, we know God.
The tricky part: knowing yourself.
At first glance, you might say, sure I know myself. You might fill in the blanks something like this: My name is <Pam> and I live in <Montana> and I <work in a bank>. But I believe what the great sages and philosophers were getting at here is something a little deeper. You have to look past the surface or public self, to a space beyond the ever-present, stage-hogging ego.
It’s the ego who might be dismissing this exercise right now. The reason? The ego doesn’t want to look too deeply into anything. It’s shallow and fearful of giving any ground to the true self, the person you at your core. The real you is often “the watcher” deep inside you, the silent one who sits back and observes.
Two clues that may help you find God.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers, I don’t. But here are two ways to get started on connecting with the place where God resides, the deepest part of your inner self. They sometimes work for me.
- Find some solitude. We all need to take regular breaks from the constant thoughts, desires and fears that make up our everyday world. We need room for our soul to breathe. I’ve written before about my own practice which involves finding solitude where I can, sometimes waking before the household and sipping a cup of coffee while sitting in a comfortable chair. It has been said that silence is God’s language. In solitude, you may find this to be true.
- Meditate or try centering prayer. They both have the ability to soften the sharpen edges of life and calm you. Author David Frenette describes centering prayer as “a state beyond walking, sleeping or dreaming.” It puts you in the right frame of mind to sense there is something greater out there, both within you and around you.
As a famous writer once said, “The secret to life is meaningless unless you discover it yourself.” So, no outsourcing this task to a close confidant, the latest spiritual bestseller or even to church. The work must be done by you and you only. Why not get started today?