JOHN 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
He abides with you, and he will be in you. This simple shift from “with” to “in” marks the transforming moment of what we can call mystical experience. In fact, it’s helpful to put these two positions together with a third for a more complete picture of spiritual awakening and faith development.

So let’s begin with a third position, really first in the sequence, which corresponds to the popular view of God or Spirit as “outside” you – up there in heaven or over there in the temple sanctuary; in short, somewhere else. The category of supernatural intervention is also part of this cluster of ideas, where God is regarded as “over nature,” managing the cosmos and human history from behind the curtain, as it were.

Religion can become completely preoccupied here: coordinating the rituals, defending an orthodoxy, managing a budget, and maintaining its membership roster. In a sense, because God is outside the system, religion takes on the responsibility of carrying on in his absence. It determines who’s in and who’s out, and in many Christian traditions an emphasis on the (future) Second Coming of Jesus serves to reinforce the church’s authority in the meantime. Until the Boss gets back, we’re in charge.

So that’s the position of the divine as “outside.”

At some point faith deepens and God is encountered in a more personal way. The one who, according to the myths, made the world, stepped into history a long time ago, supervises everything from above, and will eventually wrap it all up, is also right here with me. God cares for me and maybe has a plan for my life. God wants me to reach out and get involved, to help my neighbor and do what is right.

True enough, religion can also exploit believers at this level of spirituality. How do you know what God wants? We are called, charged, and ordained to speak God’s Word into your life. You want to cultivate a personal relationship with God? Very well. Here are all the materials to help you do that – sermons, fellowships, lesson plans, retreats, mission trips, daily devotions, etc.

Pretty soon and I’m safely folded into “the program.”

Jesus guided his disciples through this descent of faith, from orthodox doctrines to a more personal quest for God. He talked about God in third person in order to make a connection with their current beliefs. But then he began to translate the divine mystery into second-person references, of you and your neighbor. Yes, God loves the world; but we need to cooperate with God’s love and help it reach those in need.

That’s as far as most religions get, if we’re lucky. As we said, they frequently fall short, getting caught up in the power trip of mind-control, expanding its facilities, and telling people what to do. Even if it does its job well, however, religion can only approach the threshold of the fully awakened spiritual life. There it must wait for the individual to emerge again from communion with God and step back into the practical concerns of daily life.

Jesus invited those who were ready for it, into a position with God where distinctions start to fall away. “The Spirit will be in you.”  Not outside of you or even with you, but deep within – deeper even than your own sense of self, as the very ground of your being. This experience of mystical communion is too deep for words to reach and express.

The thirteenth-century German mystic Eckhart von Hochheim (Meister Eckhart) declared: “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”


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