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On the Pursuit of Spiritual Intimacy
Author's note: This post was written two months ago, before the experience I wrote about in Encountering Spiritual Intimacy Amid Isolation. It reflects my thoughts while on the journey to that encounter.
Three data points have recently come to me, each supporting the same principle of spiritual intimacy, something I have been pursuing for some time. The way I define the term is this: when our hearts are so united with God's heart that we know His desires and intents such that they become our own. It is more than knowledge; it is a face-to-face and heart-to-heart relationship with the Holy that motivates our desire to be continually in communion with Him. Intimacy, of course, requires that there is already a respectful, honorable, and heart-based relationship such that intimacy is allowed to grow and mature.
Over the last few days, I've been meditating, mulling, and contemplating on these three data points that have impressed themselves upon my spirit. At this point, the process has led me to the following thoughts.
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The Practice of the Presence of God
I read this classic book1 by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection last year and it continues to resonate and influence my own pursuit of intimacy.
Brother Lawrence, a humble monk who lived in the 1600's, is one of the great historical examples of one who lived this lifestyle of intimacy. Uneducated, he served as a servant to other monks, mainly by preparing and serving meals and doing all the clean-up work. In his mind, however, he was not serving them with his duties, he was serving God directly.
"While assigned to the kitchen, working at the tedious tasks of cooking and cleaning, he developed the practice of living always in conscious awareness of God." (pg.8)
He resolved to make the love of God the goal of all his actions. His devotion to this practice was unshakeable, to the point he became known for the intimacy of his relationship with the Father. Monsignor Joseph de Beaufort, vicar general to the archbishop of Paris, became his closest earthly friend and said that speaking with Brother Lawrence was like sitting at the feet of the Master to soak in the riches of humility, wisdom, understanding, and devotion. This humble, uneducated, and unsophisticated man of God had attained a relationship with the Holy that few have known. He developed a lifestyle that allowed him to be continually and constantly aware of God's Presence.
The continual and constant awareness of God is a matter of the heart's desire and intent, and the entanglement of one's spirit with the Holy Spirit
The kind of intimacy we are talking about here is not a mechanical thing. It cannot be achieved through effort but requires entangling ourselves with the Holy Spirit through our desire and surrender. Real synergy between our spirit and the Holy Spirit is indeed a spirit-to- Spirit force. It is this synergy that brings together our heart's desire and our passion for the pursuit, melding them together as one with the Holy Spirit. As I've meditated on this concept, I've come to define entangling, the process through which this merger is accomplished, as being in complete alignment such that God's full provision can flow from His throne and through the Holy Spirit into my spirit, body, and soul. One way I've come to visualize this for myself is the entangling of two DNA strings, one mine and one the Spirit's. It is a visualization, not a literal statement, but it helps me to focus and surrender so that I am properly aligned.
But clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and stop making provision for the sinful nature with a view to passionate craving.
This passage2 takes the concept to a practical level. "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." Sometimes we read a passage like this and it passes by unnoticed. Another time it will stop us dead in our tracks.
When I think of clothing myself in the person of Christ, it takes on the image of putting on a garment that surrounds me. The thing about wearing a garment is that you know you are wearing it. You can feel its texture, the way it moves with you, and its protection from the elements. It is a very real physical sensation. I also think of how clothing myself in Christ places Him face forward to the world as I rest in His peace, as if hidden behind a veil. There is a palpable sense of my position inside Him and His Presence between myself and the world. It is real, tangible, and unfailing. The only time it isn't there is when I choose not to put on the garment of Christ as my covering.
I am certain that most people, even committed believers, may think about this type of intimacy and say it is not possible to achieve. We live in a fallen world. Our lives are too busy and chaotic. Even simple tasks can require all of our attention with none left over for such as this. I do not agree and here is why. It doesn't matter what our profession or career is, or what chore or task may consume our capacities in a given moment. If Brother Lawrence could be constantly aware of the presence of God as he washed dishes and mopped the floors, then it is possible for all of us if we so choose. Framing a house, writing a contract, negotiating a business deal, or even pulling the weeds in the garden are all times we can experience the same intimate connection that Brother Lawrence did. It isn't about what we are doing, it is all about Who we are doing it for and our desire to honor Him. When our purpose and pursuit is to do everything, think everything, speak everything to the glory of God, then He is always in our heart, always there to observe, assist, and encourage. We can feel the fabric of Christ as the garment that surrounds us and know that He is there in each moment.
I've been on this pursuit of intimacy with the Holy for a while but have so very far to go in my quest. At times I can feel inadequate to the task, especially when I've failed to represent Christ as I should. And then there are times when I hear those words in my head: "the continual and constant awareness of God," and "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ," and I begin the journey anew, hungering and searching for the overwhelming peace and rest that come with the assurance that He is always there, and I am always hidden inside His Presence.
Being constantly aware of being hidden inside His Presence. That is a good place to be.
Herman, Nicolas (Brother Lawrence). The Practice of the Presence of God in Modern English. Translated by Marshall Davis, 2013.
Romans 13:14 (Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament, an Expanded Translation)