By Deacon Derick Cranston
Deep inside all of us is a spark of the divine, an eternal essence transcending space and time. It is the core of our being, a being made in the image of God. The word “image” comes from the Latin word “imagio” which means to imitate. The fact that we are made in the image of God means we are called to imitate God and strive to touch God like Adam in Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.
But Adam is not striving to touch God. It is God who is leaning out, stretching from the clouds of heaven to touch Adam. Adam — which in Hebrew can be translated into “human being” — is lazily reclined against a rock and nonchalantly putting up his hand to touch God, barely making any effort at all. Human beings (represented by Adam) have the ability to touch the hand of God, but must stretch up to the clouds in order to do so.
In “The cloud of unknowing,” a spiritual tract written by a 10-century English mystic named Julian of Norwich, we find a way to exceed our limitations and touch the finger of God. It involves plunging deep into our subconscious and peeling back the layers of mind and intellect. It requires us to quiet ourselves and slow down the cascading waterfall of our thoughts and emotions which can become a torrential downpour at times.
This is not to say the intellect and emotions must be completely shut down. Emotions and intellect are a part of our everyday experience, giving color and texture to our life. Silencing the inner narrator that is our mind is impossible and Julian of Norwich and many other mystics knew this. What Julian of Norwich offers is practical advice on how to free ourselves from idle thoughts and concepts that can entangle us and restrict our movement towards God.
She speaks of a “naked intent” for God and writes, “Select a little word of one syllable … God or love works well … and fasten it to your heart. Fix your mind on it permanently so nothing can dislodge it.” This seems almost too simple to do, but try it and you might be amazed at how well it works. You will have to put yourself in a quiet place though, close your eyes, and clear your mind. Relax and let God’s presence fill the vessel of your body like liquid sunshine.
Whenever your thoughts wander — and they will wander — focus on the word you have selected and let it bring you back to the still, small, voice of God whispering to you. It is then that you can feel a spiritual essence that is eternally finding shape and form in the transient things of this world.
It will take many attempts and much patience, but it can be done. However, you will not be able to stay in this blissful state for the rest of your day. It will provide medicine for your soul and inoculate you from the venom of frustration, disappointment and emotional weariness that is all too prevalent throughout the day.
You may also find that the more you do this, the more the world around you will seem to be moving in a harmonious flow. You will feel the vibration of the physical matter of quarks and mathematical constructs which make up the universe, and find the divine spark inside you which transcends space and time.
(Deacon Cranston is pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)