Face to Face

Clouds DSC04297When I was a devoted Catholic child, I learned about the saints who had visions of angels or the Blessed Mother Mary or even Jesus himself. There were the children in Fatima, and Bernadette of Lourdes, and Margaret Mary Alacoque, and Joan of Arc. I wanted to have a vision, too. I prayed for Jesus or Mary to come and show themselves to me and speak to me directly. I imagined spirituality should include a holy person coming down from the sky and standing in front of me. It never quite happened that way. Why not, I wondered? Why tell us these stories if we could not have those experiences?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most famous of the 19th century intellectuals who became known as the transcendentalists, wrote something similar in 1849:

The foregoing generation beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?”

A spiritual journey is our search for our own “original relation to the universe.” A spiritual journey is our search for our own face to face, personal experience of “God and nature,” whatever those might turn out to be. A spiritual journey brings us to our own experience of the larger reality of which we are a part, our awareness of connection to the earth, to each other, and to the Mystery within and between all life.

When I was growing up, it seemed that only a few special people might have such a personal experience of that Mystery. But now I believe that I was confused about what I was looking for. Let me use an analogy here. I was looking for something like a trip to a great auditorium to see “The Mystery” in concert; but the Mystery really emerges more like the sound of a tune in one’s own imagination.

Quote from the Introduction to Nature; Addresses and Lectures (1849).


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