For many of us, youth is gone, and the days are upon us that please us not. Life’s drama can grow wearisome and leave one with a sense that one has had one’s fill. Death comes on the scene; it is less abstract, more real. With aging one is more open to the realization that we have an appointment with death. Death is there, somewhere ahead of us. It is an appointment we cannot break. Therefore, it is not unexpected that, as one ages, there is an inquisitiveness about God, and one is disposed to a growing interest in spirituality.
For many believers, there is a kind of spiritual maturing. One can feel that one has lived a life of faith stuck in the shallow end of the pool. Many of the old things begin to lose their luster. There’s a realization that that which was good for yesterday, may not be right for today. There’s Paul’s metaphor in First Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Earlier in the letter (1Cor.3:2), Paul made the same point: “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual people… but only as mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food; for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”
Many people’s conception of God changes with time. Many were raised to connect God with rules, regulations and customs; and God was looking on approvingly or disapprovingly. For many, this might not be cutting it anymore. People want more from religion than rules. Strikingly, many are more open to more silence and contemplative practices.
John 6:44 states that “no one can come to me (Christ) unless the Father draw him.” John 4:19 states that “He first loved us.” These words imply that we do not get to God by our own efforts we are found by God. Holiness is not something achieved by one’s own actions, but is a gift from God. Sanctification is primarily the work of God. St. Basil the Great made the puzzling statement that “love of God is not something that can be taught or achieved.” Another quote: “Bernard of Clairvaux declared: “You would not seek God at all, nor love God at all, if you had not been sought and first loved.”
These verses also imply the idea of God’s persistent pursuit, and that God leads each person as He sees that person has needs. In her book, Ways to the Knowledge of God, Edith Stein asserts that the way to God is different for each individual. John of the Cross stressed that no two people travel the same route to God. The spiritual world is God’s territory, and God adapts Himself to His creatures. Different humans are led by different paths. Each person’s spirituality is custom designed.
These citations imply that there are as many ways to draw near to the Divine as there are people in the world. God has endless ways to draw people to Himself.
Something Therese of Lisieux wrote is a component to the idea that each person’s life with God is unique. Therese wrote: “I wondered why God has preferences, why all souls don’t receive an equal amount of grace. He caresses certain privileged souls from cradle to grave (Story of a Soul, p. 13).
This statement is echoed in Isaiah 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” There is also God’s enigmatic statement in Isaiah 65:1: I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask.” Thus, God does give more to some, to some less. It’s His unfathomable choice. It is perplexing, puzzling, mysterious. God is master of His own gifts.
Sometimes, when I’m on a train platform, or in a train seat, I wonder how God presents Himself to, or is apprehended by the person standing or sitting near me.
There is the scene in the third chapter of John’s Gospel where Jesus tells a Pharisee named Nicodemus about being “born again”—referring to a spiritual rebirth. Jesus goes further and says: “The wind blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know from where it comes, or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn.3:1-8). The implication seems to be that the kind of rebirth Jesus has in mind is elusive and mysterious and entirely God’s doing.
Allied to these citations is that of Philippians 1:6 where Paul says: “I am sure that God, who has begun this work in you, will bring it to completion.” We should learn to think of ourselves as God’s work, God’s handiwork. From my own experiences, I’ve found that any notable experience of God feels much more like Someone has found me.
It is God who sanctifies us. God does not love us because we are good. God loves us because He is good.
A few more observations:
As the number of persons participating in our churches is dramatically decreasing, the number of persons in the country interested in spirituality is proportionally increasing. Contact with the worldly may arouse a longing for the spiritual. Spirituality is the hook back into the faith.
Many moderns stress that they are spiritual, but not religious. I don’t think one can be spiritual and not religious. However, people can be religious and not spiritual.
Finally, there is Julian of Norwich’s (d. 1413) statement that “most people are spiritual babies.”