0 Liked

Can We Be Intimate with God?

When our kids were young, my wife and I had a hard time getting them to attend weekly religious education classes at our parish. Even then, I understood why. They found little there that interested them.

So I used to look for ways to get them to go. One week I made a deal with them. I would excuse them from going if they agreed to watch the movie “Fiddler on the Roof” with me.

The movie was dated even then, having been released in 1964. And it is a musical, set in an era around 1905, featuring songs that were of little interest to kids in the early years of the rock age. I found the story inspiring. They didn’t.

Jewish Religious and Cultural Traditions

The story centers on Tevye, a milkman in the village of Anatevka in Russia, who, according to Wikipedia, “attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family’s lives. He must cope with the strong-willed actions of his three daughters who wish to marry for love.”

Tevye sees this as disastrous for his daughters and his family. I vividly recall him “tearing his garment” in protest, like devout Jews in the Old Testament, against the intention of one of his daughters to give up her faith. But what drew me to Tevye was the portrayal of his intimacy with God. He carried on a continued conversation with God, as you might with your best friend or a sibling.

I know that some would say that Tevye was delusional, and the movie was fiction. But many of us, believers and not, are still left with the question about the possibility of intimacy with God. From one perspective, the answer is a definitive “no.” God is unknowable, say the theologians, and if God is spirit and eternal, as theologians also insist, it’s hard to see how humans can have a relationship with an unknown.

Intimate Conversations with God

But characters in the Old and New Testaments – the way many of us have learned to “know” God – carry on intimate conversations with God. That’s especially evident in the psalms. And Jesus revealed much about God through the “Our Father” and parables about God as father.

What’s more, thousands of generations of people like Tevye have had relationships with God. Some could be called intimate. Are they all delusional?

I would classify this among the many paradoxes of faith, which purports a kind of relationship with a being unlike any among humans. God is unknowable, but we can communicate with him/her. (I leave aside for now the problem about prayer being a seemingly one-sided communication. I’ve written about the subject often and am sure to do so again.)

So prayer seems to be a way to be intimate with God. But how? With what kind of prayer?

My brother, Dick, a priest in Kansas City until his death in 2008, was a fervent practitioner and teacher of what is called “centering prayer.”

Silence, Relaxation and Contemplation

Modern centering prayer, which emphasizes silence, relaxation and contemplation, became popular in the 1970s through the writings of several Trappist monks. One of them, Fr. Thomas Keating, lived before his death in a monastery in Snowmass, CO. He has several appealing videos about the prayer – including how it’s done – on YouTube. If you’re interested, I recommend them. Just search for his name on YouTube.

Though it interests me and I’ve adopted some of its elements, I’ve never been able to adopt this method of prayer, however. I stick with the psalms and the kind of prayer Jesus taught, which includes “conversations” about anything that’s on my mind. At its best, it provides what I consider intimacy with God.

Prayer, like religious belief itself, is personal and varies by personality, but it is also a social activity. Many prayers in the Old and New Testaments, including the OUR father, emphasize our inclusion in a community of believers. That’s why it’s important to belong to a religious community and participate regularly in shared prayer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email