“God refuses to be an object for attachment because God desires full love, not addiction. Love born of true freedom, love free from attachment, requires that we search for a deepening awareness of God, just as God freely reaches out to us.” ~Gerald May in Addiction and Grace (as quoted by inward/outward)
I have been a spiritual seeker all of my life, from my earliest memories. My childhood was steeped in religion as I grew up in a household that revolved around the church. Although I have wandered far afield from the beliefs and practices of my youth, that urge toward the spiritual has never left me. While it remains as strong as ever, I’ve noticed that the focus of this drive has shifted over the years.
I remember well the drive for God being fueled by fear when I was young. The fear of hell was foremost, of course, but there was also the fear of punishment in this life for having chosen wrongly in the many moments when my thoughts, words, and deeds did not measure up. My seeking of God was less about God and more a desire to escape the punishment that seemed to be ever looming over my head.
I also remember the emotional highs that came from times at church camp in my teens or in emotionally charged worship services, particularly in the Vineyard Church I attended for a while after graduate school where the band led us in praise songs designed to tug at the heartstrings. It was easy to believe that these times of emotional outpourings were what it meant to love God and to devote my seeking of God to creating more of these emotional experiences. That works only as long as the emotion can be sustained, but when the emotion runs dry in the desert times in life, it can quickly seem as if God has abandoned me. In the end, I had mistaken the emotional experience for God, and it proved itself to be no more than an idol.
Seeking God out of fear or out of desire for emotional experience are both attachments. They are addictions in their own way. And as Gerald May points out in the opening quote, neither qualify as full love. Both are looking to God for a benefit rather than seeking God for God’s sake.
Being human, I don’t know that it is possible to ever fully seek God only out of full love with no eye to the benefits we hope to gain. Do not those desires for benefits for ourselves haunt all of our human relationships from time to time? How much more so does it seem likely that we would do so with a God that we cannot see or know in the same way as our fellow humans?
That being said, though, my seeking does seem to have shifted more in the direction of this love that May describes over the years. In fact, the less I understand who God is and the less defined my beliefs become, the closer I come to loving God and seeking God without the attachments I once knew. In those moments when I become frustrated with the journey and am tempted to abandon the everlasting seeking, it is not fear nor desire for ecstatic emotional experiences that keeps me on the path. Rather, it is the conviction that God is real and is pursuing me even as I am pursuing God that urges me onward.
I encountered a quote today on the Facebook page of Quaker faith & practice that describes well my experience in those moments. (I do not know the source other than the FB page to which I have linked.)
“My experience came after many years of doubting and uncertainty. It came to me one evening, alone in the sitting room at home. It came at a moment when God, who through many people and events over a period of several months had been pursuing me, put his hand on my shoulder. I had to respond – yes or no. It was unequivocal, inescapable and unconditional. It was also completely unemotional; I was stone cold sober – no heavenly visions or lumps in the throat. It was a challenge to the will, a gift of faith for me to reject or accept – and I accepted.” ~Roy Farrant, 1974
I have not been fortunate enough to be able to make this decision once for all time, as he seems to describe. Instead, I seem to make this decision repeatedly—sometimes daily it seems—but the decision is always the same. I cannot define God with even the smallest bit of certainty, but I know that this God pursues me always. I know that feel of the hand on my shoulder. I know the need to respond.
And I choose faith. Every time, I choose faith. Even without know who exactly I am choosing to have faith in, I choose faith. Sometimes this comes with a flood of emotion (usually that of humble gratitude), more often there is no emotion at all. Except for the longing for the one who pursues me. The longing which has no name for a pursuer I cannot describe. This longing is why I choose faith again and again—and why I keep my feet upon this journey of seeking God day after day.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.