The heart of Christian spirituality is the Presence of God with the Love of God. The narratives of the heroes of faith in the bible are full of examples of the intimacy of men and women with God. Abraham and Sarah had a meal with God under the oaks tree in Mamre. Moses spoke to God face to face, and even got a glimpse of God from behind! Jacob wrestled with God and was handicapped. Joseph visited with God in his dreams. Samuel was awaked by God’s voice calling his name, and Elijah on the mountains, a quiet voice. David danced, sung, and played music for God. These people and the prophets shared an intimacy with God that is astonishing. God, the creator, enjoying intimacy with his creatures is a great mystery; one even angels seek to understand.
Is this intimacy for these chosen few or is the intimacy available for all of God’s people? Jesus, in using the metaphor of a vine plant and it branches implies that this intimacy is for everyone. The precondition as the metaphor taught is how attached the branch is to the vine. Elsewhere, Jesus talks about grafted branches. Hence, we can deduce that the Presence and Love of God is for all God’s people. Unfortunately, nowadays, many understood this intimacy and love as grace. Grace is a free undeserved gift from God. It is one way, from God who loves and forgives, to us. Intimacy with God is two way. That is why the biblical writers use sexual union between a man and a woman as the metaphor of intimacy with God. The Song of Songs is a key book in the bible on this.
Intimacy with God is not romantic love. Romantic love is often just lust. Intimacy with God is opening and sharing with God our innermost being which is our souls. Christian spiritual teachers taught about union with God. That is why intimacy with God may be costly and painful. Of this deeper aspect of the spiritual life, Teresa of Avila, both in her autobiography and her book The Interior Castle described it well. In her autobiography, Teresa of Avila recorded her vision of an angel with a golden arrow which tip seems to be on fire. She shared, “It was as if he bored into me several times with the arrow, through my heart, and when he withdrew the arrow again, it was as if the most inner part of my heart was drawn out. He finally left me, on fire with a fervent love for God. The wound was so great that it caused me to moan in pain; but the joy caused by this pain was so effusive that it was impossible for me to want to be free of it, or that I will be content with anything less than God”. Teresa commented on the pain was joyful as the arrow was withdrawn taking a piece of her heart with it. What is more is that she described the pain as a longing for more of God; that the piece of her heart that is stuck on the flaming arrowing is crying out for more and more of God’s love.
Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, marble sculpture by Gianlorenzo Bernini (1647-52). (Rome, S. Maria della Victoria)
photo source: Wikipedia
We often think of intimacy with God as bible reading, praying, and serving God. We treat these activities as transactions we do to repay God for his grace. That is not what true Christian spirituality is. True Christian spiritual is falling in love with God. Sometimes this intimacy is painful as all true intimacy are. We cannot truly give of ourselves unless we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. That means to feel the pain that intimacy with God may bring. C.S.Lewis wrote about our yearnings as if distinct music from behind a closed door stirred memories of a distant land which is our real home. It is more than that. It is the yearning for the love and presence of a loved One who is far away which is sometimes painful with loss. Moses, Sarah, and others enjoyed their intimacy with God. It must be appreciated that this intimacy also come with pain for each one of them.
Intimacy with God is not for mystics only. As Karl Rahler noted long ago, all Christians are mystics. Intimacy with God is for all Christians as we grow deeper in our spiritual lives. There is a tendency to trivialize intimacy with God in our churches today and replace it with activism. The sad consequence of that is that we will end up with very shallow Christians with deep spiritual hunger for God that is not satisfied.