The Experience of God


In my last post I made mention of spiritual direction, and one generous commentator provided us with another book recommendation. It is another book written by Fr. Dubay on the subject of selecting a spiritual director. Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within is the title. I have never heard someone say they were disappointed after reading one of Fr. Dubay´s books, but they are all written with academic language that can be hard to read if you are not used to it. Thanks for the comment Michael!

Now I will pick up the ball where I dropped it at the end my first post. Once we initially give ourselves to God it is not uncommon to have a very strong emotional experience, and then a pleasant period of general clear sailing during our prayer after it. I would say this period is characterized by very pleasant prayer experiences and an overall drop in anxiety during the normal daily routine. This period always ends though, and the time that follows it can be characterized by very empty feeling prayer and some kind of trial. I think this trial is most commonly some old sin that seemed to disappear while everything seemed easier and now has resurfaced right at the wrong time. There are two completely reasonable and normal human reactions to this experience. The first is to discount the reality of the conversion, and the other extreme is to acknowledge the conversion but think that God has abandoned you.

Neither of these extremes are the correct way to respond to this situation, but they are normal and understandable reactions to what has just happened. Before I can provide an alternative to these reasonable responses I will allow Fr. Dubay to shed some light on the situation.

Before we can fully understand the reason behind how we experience God, we need to try to understand what human experience is in its most general sense. On this Fr. Dubay states: "experience is an awareness caused by an objective other, and in this contact affectivity predominates ... experiences change us for the better or for the worse"(Fire Within p.40). This is a fancy way of saying that whenever we experience anything, what is happening is something that is not us is coming into contact with our senses in some way(a sent touches our nose, light to the eye, a sound to the ear, etc.), and then the only reason we know that this contact is made is because we feel it.

There is a difference in the way we experience God though, because God is spiritual(not something that can be sensed), and when we come into communion with God, He encounters us in our sprit, our soul. This is why the two extreme reactions mentioned above are so normal. When we experience God it is unlike anything that we experience in other parts of our lives. Now the question is, "how do we know that we are really praying then if we cannot feel anything." The best answer I can give for this question is that, while you are trying to pray, if you want to pray, then you can be sure that you are praying. God always sees the intention in our heart regardless of what words we say (or fail to say). Feelings are often experienced during prayer because of the connection between our body and soul. A human being is an embodied spirit, and the only thing that can tear these two things apart is the greatest physical evil experienced because of the Fall, death. Even after we die God will return us to our natural embodied state with the Resurrection we profess during the Creed every week.

Remember the end of Fr. Dubay's definition of experience, that each thing that comes in contact with us changes us. You can be certain that the experience of God will always change us for the better, and this is the best means of seeing improvement in the spiritual life. It is normal to continue to experience ups and downs during prayer, and this is why our prayer itself is not good at telling us where we are in the spiritual life. One day while you pray you will feel like a saint and the next you may feel like a newborn unable to simply sit up. It is also the case that during the peaks and the troughs of prayer many normal temptations will disappear and resurface, although the grace is always available to resist. Thus, to see the improvement in your spiritual life, which God is blessing you with, it is best to look back over the last four to six months and compare them to the four to six months that came before them(I know, this is very hard in the fast paced society in which we live). If you are living a generous life (simply trying to give yourself to God more every day) then I am sure you will see God's grace at work in you in a concrete way.

In my next post I will make a few more points on this topic, and I will also try to explain the reasons why we experience distractions in prayer. Please feel free to provide feedback in comments. I am in the midst of studying philosophy so if my writing is extremely boring or I am hard to understand please tell me. If I am boring you, and forcing you to read long posts while you are waiting for Andy to post something worth while, then yell at me. This blog is for you, and I do not mind dropping this subject to pick up something that will interest you. Thanks and God Bless!

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    # by Dove3 - July 16, 2007 at 6:32 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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    # by Andrea - July 17, 2007 at 12:03 AM

    Please continue on about prayer, especially about getting distracted in prayer. Also, I know the Catechism says that "...prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy" (CCC 2558) but what are some practical methods of prayer?- ways in which to truly discern what God wants you to do to bring Him glory?

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    # by Andrew Haines - July 17, 2007 at 5:56 AM

    i deleted a comment posted here about a website regarding spiritual happenings. i have absolutely nothing against open research of various spiritual topics, but blind links concerning speculative matters that hardly have anything to do with the topics of this blog will be questioned. if you have a link you'd like to post, please post it with a description of the site. otherwise (for the intellectual and moral safety of the readers) it will be deleted. sorry, but thanks for understanding.

    -andy

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    # by Mario - July 17, 2007 at 10:13 AM

    Hello Father Andrew,

    Please continue this topic on "The Experience of God". Your post helped me to answer some questions in my spiritual life. I was away from the Catholic Church for many years and returned over two years ago and I remember my life in the first few months of my "return Home" being extremely prayer-filled and "holy" in a sense, then past struggles resurfaced and it's been an ongoing battle. So, thanks again for sharing this great discussion. I'm looking forward to reading more.

    In Christ...
    Mario