The Omnipresent Embrace
~ Seeking a mystical relationship of love with the omnipresent God ~
Jul 5, 2014
Around a dozen years ago, I stood in our sunny bedroom in Indian Neck, Virginia, and told my wife, “I want to have a mystical relationship of love with God.” As of this writing, in 2014, I feel very grateful to the many spiritual writers who had the same desire, and have provided so much guidance in my own search. I’ve made progress, although I still have a very long way to go.
For many years before that moment in Indian Neck, I had believed in God, had had faith in God, and had done my best to both love God and express God’s love to those whom I met. Something, perhaps an ancestral prayer, had touched me when I was young. When I was four, I was given a basrelief picture of Jesus, which I kept next to my bed for a number of years. For a short while, I was an altar boy at Saint Luke’s Cathedral in Portland, Maine, the Episcopalian church of my family.
In my late teens, I started reading books like The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm, and books by J. Krishnamurti and various Sufi writers. The books of Lloyd C. Douglas, like The Robe, The Magnificent Obsession, and Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal, made a huge impression on me. From my teenage years until that moment in Indian Neck, I had prayed and worked hard to be of service to others.
Still, something was missing. I finally realized that the void that I was experiencing was caused by a lack of intimacy with the very God that I prayed to, every single day. I prayed to God, dutifully offering my day’s activities to help improve the world. I had a concept of God, and had often been moved by my perception of God’s love, or God’s sadness at the state of the world. I was convinced that God often felt lonely because of the separation of humanity.
However, I had gradually become aware that I needed more than sympathy for a distant God. I wanted to hug God. I wanted to live in God’s embrace, although I’m not sure if I thought of the relationship in exactly those terms, as I stood gazing out at the fields of Indian Neck.
What I did know is that I wanted to have a mystical relationship of love with God, as the medieval Christian mystics experienced. Being a rather methodical person, I started to purchase and read all the books about mysticism and spirituality that I could find. I continue that practice now, along with my dear wife, Kimmy Sophia, to such an extent that our house is filled with books on those themes.
Books are curious things. One can read an entire book, and enjoy it – or not – and sometimes walk away with one sentence, or paragraph, or concept, that significantly impacts one’s life. With the treasure trove of books on mysticism and spirituality that I started reading, I experienced that phenomenon over and over again.
It often takes time to understand a concept. It requires chewing on it, so to speak. For that reason, I appreciate the ancient Benedictine practice of “Lectio Divina”, or “Divine Reading,” which calls on the reader to deepen understanding through the four steps of reading a short passage, and then meditating on, studying, and contemplating the meaning of the passage. After that, of course, understanding needs to go further, into experiential knowing.
I’ve often felt that a spiritual book, new to me, is the best, or most important book, I’ve ever read. I suppose that each one is, at that particular moment. One such book, which transformed my search for a mystical relationship with God, was the two-book volume, The Way of the Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way. In 2007, a few months before we moved from Indian Neck, back to my home state of Maine, I wrote an essay about my experience with that book, called “The God Prayer.”
The Way of the Pilgrim was written in the 1800s by an anonymous Russian monk, who wandered around Russia, reciting the “Jesus Prayer” as a continuous spiritual practice to center his thoughts on the presence of God. The Jesus Prayer is the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The second book, The Pilgrim Continues His Way, quoted a Russian spiritual elder, who read from an ancient manuscript, about the “prayer of the heart”:
He sees that truly to pray means to direct the thought and the memory, without relaxing, to the recollection of God, to walk in His divine presence, to awaken oneself to His love by thinking about Him, and to link the name of God with one’s breathing and the beating of one’s heart. He is guided in all this... by saying the Jesus prayer at all times in all places and during every occupation, unceasingly.
To become aware of God’s constant and loving presence, linked to my breathing and the beating of my heart, has become the central goal of my life.
As I wrote in the above essay, in 2007 I decided to create my own prayer, which I called the God Prayer. I recorded it on a small MP3 player, which I hung around my neck on a ribbon, and listened to it with one earbud, on auto replay, throughout the day. I still have that MP3 player, and still listen to the prayer, almost every day, six years later.
My original recording of the God Prayer was, “My Dear Beloved God, I embrace You and love You, and embrace Your children with Your love.”
It included a longer prayer after the primary and short “mantra”, but the essential aspect of it was the sentence above, which I repeated silently to myself, frequently, even when I wasn’t able to listen to the recording. I found the prayer transformative. I began to feel God’s presence in a much more immediate way, and also found that I looked at people with a warmer heart.
In 2008, I discovered a musical recording of the two thousand year old mystical Jewish prayer, “Ana B’Koach.” It was set to music and sung by Shirona, a Jewish Cantor from New York. I found it powerful and beautiful, so I included it in the God Prayer recording. I still include it now, and have never tired of it.
Over the years, I have changed the longer prayer many times, and have now shortened the primary mantric prayer to, “Dear Beloved, We Embrace.” The longer part of the prayer has many sentences that I use to guide and train my mind and heart, focused on reaching a deeper resonance and harmony with God.
A year ago or so, I was extremely pleased to find the book, Original Goodness – Strategies for Uncovering Your Hidden Spiritual Resources, by the late Eknath Easwaran. Easwaran was a Fulbright scholar from India, who came to America in the 60s, and founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Berkeley, California.
Easwaran taught “passage meditation,” which is the practice of memorizing passages of sacred text, and then repeating them often, throughout the day. He also taught the mindfulness practice of repeating a mantram or Holy Name, such as the Jesus Prayer, as a way of centering oneself, during the bustle of daily life. I was tremendously excited to see that I had inadvertently adopted his method of meditation, and could attest to its profound effect.
His book, Original Goodness, is a reflection on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, and is filled with lovely quotes from the early Christian mystics, such as this one, from Meister Eckhart:
You need not seek God here or there: he is no farther off than the door of the heart. There he stands and waits and waits until he finds you ready to open and let him in. You need not call him from a distance; to wait until you open for him is harder for him than for you. He needs you a thousand times more than you can need him. Your opening and his entering are but one moment.
I have become deeply attracted to the belief that God is present in all things and in every person, that God is all there is and that God is an indwelling God who loves us more than we imagine. Part of my God Prayer is, “Dear Beloved, You are all of me, and I am part of You.” I believe that since God is all of me, that means that God is present with me at all times – truly omnipresent. Thus, when I am kind to someone, it is not just me that is being kind, but God is within me, being kind through me, and as me.
For that reason, I now take the view that it’s accurate for me to say that “We” (that is, God and me) do everything together. We love together. We write together. (Thus I affirm the statement, “Deus est auctor amoris et decoris. – God is the author of love and beauty.”) We watch a sunset together. And sadly, God is present as I act selfishly, allowing me to “drive the car”, so to speak, watching and enduring as I do something wrong.
By “part of God,” I mean that each of us is a projection of one “particle” of the infinite God that is entirely unique. If God is all there is (that is, there is no other creator), then that particle of God that becomes each of us allows each of us to have a profoundly personal relationship with a part of God that no one else shares.
I read with great delight the book, A Tree Full of Angels – Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary, by Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, from the Saint Scholastica Monastery, a community of Benedictine sisters in Arkansas.
I immediately adopted her use of the phrase, “incarnational spirituality”, to clarify my own burgeoning awareness that God is always present in us, and in fact has incarnated as us. Recently, after consulting a Latin scholar at Queens’ College in the University of Cambridge for the correct translation, I’ve now started using the term “Homo Incarnatus,” or “Incarnational Man,” to describe human beings. I’ve also added this phrase to my longer God Prayer: “Your incarnation as me allows me to say that We are love, We are peace, We are serenity...”
Sister Macrina wrote that, “The incarnational aspect of Christianity reminds us that all of life is full of God. God is in all.” In the same volume, she wrote:
“Yet at the same time I am attracted to an incarnational spirituality: finding God fleshed out in everything, embracing all as good, celebrating, loving, living, and cherishing life, leaving the blessing of myself, in Christ, everywhere I go, finding heaven at my fingertips.”
“Incarnational spirituality encourages me to take my false self to the Divine Heart with eyes wide open. Since nothing but good can fit in the heart of God, my false self will have to get lost somewhere between God and me, between heaven and earth. Perhaps, after all, this is a more exciting way of losing myself, to take my entire self to the heart of God, knowing that what is pure will remain.”
I love the idea that loving God, and taking my entire self into the embrace of God, is an act of purification. It is a comfort beyond words to realize that it is indeed God’s love that will rid me of my substantial deficiencies. If sin is defined as thoughts and actions that are separated from God, then living in resonance and harmony with God’s embrace of love is, to me, the very thing that I must focus on.
Granted, for a person to believe that God is waiting for us to open the door of our heart, as Eckhart said, one must believe that God is the Creative Source of kindness and compassionate love, rather than a judgmental, fearful God who will have nothing to do with us unless we follow certain rules and laws.
I have decided to believe in a God who is kind and loving toward all, both “believers” (of any religion) and “unbelievers”; a God who embraces all, without exception, whatever their status. I believe this because I see evidence of kindness and compassionate love all around me; in nature of course, but also in people. Yes, people can lose their way and become unspeakably cruel, yet even a “heartless” killer is capable of unexpected kindness.
If humans had not been given free will, we would not see humans sometimes acting more viciously than the most dangerous animals. Yet, it is also their free will that allows them to respond with creative love to the God who waits for their hearts to open. Creative love, freely given, means so much more than love on autopilot, given without free will.
The sorrow of free will has been unfathomable. Yet, since love and beauty and kindness are still present in the world, it leads me to the inescapable conclusion that God’s love for all of us is so strong and so immense that all of us, no matter what our condition, are able to access God’s love the moment we open the door of our hearts.
I recently purchased The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. Saint Thérèse said of her book, “What I have written will do a lot of good. It will make the kindness of God better known.” That quote alone made the purchase of the book worth it.
A dear friend told me that she could not feel God’s love for her, and could not feel the embrace of God. I responded by sharing what has worked for me – that when we decide that we will embrace God, we begin to feel something changing.
Our first step is to open our senses to the reality that love, beauty, compassion and kindness already exist in the world around us. When we begin to embrace the divine in all that we perceive, we will soon perceive even more divinity. Our perception of the divine will grow as we recognize and appreciate it. Nature is one of the very first places to look. When a child or adult sees the divine in a small animal, like a frog swimming in a brook, and sends it love, instead of picking it up and bashing its head against a rock, in tragically warped glee, then that child or adult is on the way toward resonance with the divine.
By recognizing the divine around us, we will eventually reach the point where we conclude that the love and beauty that we’ve been resonating with must have an invisible Creative Source. Whether we call that source God, or something else, is unimportant.
I do think that it’s important and valuable for us to work hard to understand the immensity and multidimensional attributes of God’s love. I believe that God is a parental, loving God; a God who created and embodies the aspects of love that we see all around us; the love of a father, a mother, a husband, a wife, and a true friend, among other types of love.
Thus, many female Christian mystics felt that God was not only their father, but their lover. I have to say, as a male, that I appreciate the opportunity to relate to God’s feminine aspect. The Jewish phrase states, “God could not be everywhere, so He created mothers.” I believe that God is everywhere, and dwells within every mother, and is our Mother as well as our Father.
My search for the mystical God led me to find God in the act of embracing God. As I repeated my prayer of embracing God, I began to feel a heightened emotional awareness that God was embracing me in return, and in fact had been embracing me first. More recently, when I pray and mediate, I often wrap my arms around myself, not to embrace myself with love (although that’s a good thing to do), but to embrace the God who dwells within me, and to feel and experience God embracing me.
Over the last few years, I’ve become convinced that my life and my love begin in God’s embrace of me and my embrace of God. Thus, my prayer is, “Dear Beloved, We Embrace.” In fact, I now express my conviction, in my prayer with God, that everything begins with “our embrace.” All that is good in the world springs from the embrace of God. Thus, why would any of us want to leave the embrace of God, even for a microsecond? I do not want to, and yet sadly, I constantly drift from the “every second awareness” that God is embracing me, and thus forget to embrace God in return.
Some of the unfortunate influences that sometimes turn us away from God’s embrace are our own unloving emotions, that are frequently stimulated by painful experiences and memories. I recently read the book, The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer. He writes that we are not our pain, demonstrating that that is so because we can observe our pain. Our pain happens to us, and tends to pull us into a vortex that we often cannot get out of easily. But behind that pain is what he calls the seat of our consciousness, observing everything. He recommends stepping back from our pain, into our seat of consciousness, and then relaxing and releasing the pain, so that it doesn’t dominate us.
I adapted his technique for my personal use, and added it to my long version of the God prayer. I’ve memorized it, and often use it when I encounter painful things, like feeling hurt by others. It has helped me a great deal. I’ve written it thus:
Dear Beloved, in the warmth of our embrace,
As sometimes happens with particular books, I glean a concept that is valuable to me, without necessarily agreeing with everything in the book. From the book, Spiritual Breakthrough, Handbook to God-Consciousness, by John Van Auken, I found his section on “The Magic Silence” very useful. Based on the idea that breathing is managed by the autonomic nervous system, which is managed by the subconscious mind and soul, he suggests that breathing in concert with the silent repetition of a mantra will influence the soul and subconscious to move in harmony with the breath and the mantra, and thus lead a person into a deep meditation.
I use a modification of that technique with the mantric God Prayer, “Dear Beloved, We Embrace.” I breathe in on the phrase, “Dear Beloved”, and breathe out on the phrase, “We Embrace.” I call it “The Breath of Love Meditation.” In addition, when I breathe in on “Dear Beloved”, I visualize God’s light and universal energy streaming down through my crown chakra. When I breathe out, on “We Embrace”, I visualize God’s love streaming out through my heart chakra. By breathing that way, as I silently repeat the God Prayer, I find that I fall into a smooth pattern that is not only sustainable, but meditative and emotionally energizing. A sense of joy, a feeling of smiling, and a sparkle in my eyes are immediately produced.
Most of all, I’ve found that the experiential feeling of living in God’s embrace fills the well of love that then inspires me to embrace God’s children and God’s creation. Desiring to embrace the universe with God is the result of falling passionately in love with the God who already loves us with even more passion and intensity and affection. In prayer, one night, I felt God say to me, “My love is so intense that it keeps the universe alive.”
The Christian mystic and Beguine, Mechthild of Magdeburg, born in 1208, wrote the book, The Flowing Light of the Godhead. Her love and passion for God, and her understanding of God’s omnipresent embrace, were beautifully expressed in the following stanzas:
Book I, Verse 24: How God Responds to the Soul
“That I love you passionately comes from my nature, for I am love itself. That I love you often comes from my desire, for I desire to be loved passionately. That I love you long comes from my being eternal, for I am without an end and without a beginning.”
Book II, Verse 6 (excerpt)
“When you sigh, you draw my divine heart into you.
Book IV, Verse 12 (excerpt)
“Nothing tastes good to me but God alone;”
“I cannot endure that a single consolation touch me except my Lover. I love my earthly friends in the company of heaven and I love my enemies in holy aching for their happiness. God has enough of everything; caressing souls is the only thing he cannot get enough of.”
After such verse, what can one say or do, except breathe with the sigh of love for the Omnipresent God?
“Berceuse (Le coucher)” [Lullaby (Bedtime)]
by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1873
Oil on canvas, 112 x 86.5 cm (3 ft. 8 in. x 2 ft. 10 in.)
Image Courtesy of the Art Renewal Center
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”