Yearning for the Presence of God


Yesterday on the bus to work, opening up A Course in Miracles at random, I read Workbook Exercise 157, and it just tore at my heart, the thought that the day might come when I would close my eyes, “gently forget the world,” and, stepping into eternity for a moment, experience the presence of God directly. This is the Gospel promise described in John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 

I’ve wanted that experience all my life, and arguably since the beginning of time, but particularly since my twenties when I began to read about it in books like the Yoga Sutras and Yogananda’s Autobiography, undaunted by the belief, expressed in The Cloud of Unknowing and other Christian classics, that it was only to be had after the death of the body.  Of course, I wanted many other things, too, failing to see them as contradicting my desire for God.

Increasingly, as I approach age seventy, I’m coming to want that direct knowledge of God for us all, as soon as we can be made fit to have it.  What more loving wish could I have for anyone than that they’d realize that this alone is the Pearl of Great Price, and everything else only has value insofar as it leads to this great awakening to All Love?   Paul counted all things as dung in comparison, “that he might win Christ” (Philippians 3:8); he’d been thoroughly taught the valuelessness of every other seeming good, and he knew that to know Christ is to know God also. 

How strange it is to reflect that I go to Friends’ meeting every week and never speak of that yearning!  Of course, lovers never do like to speak of their love other than to each other, and this might explain why I never hear any other Friend speak about that yearning, either; but what odd things we sometimes talk about instead, when we open our mouths to give vocal ministry!  Is it time for those of us who find the wait for God painful to come out of the closet about our longing?   Are we afraid that someone will tell us we’re not yet worthy of what we’re craving?   Let them!  I throw this blog posting out like a message in a bottle, hoping that the sea will bring it to some fellow sufferer who might find comfort and encouragement in it.


9 Responses to “Yearning for the Presence of God”

  1. R.H. Francis O'Hara Says:

    I hear you Friend John , this friend heard you !

  2. John Anngeister Says:

    John, I had to tell you that I too was deeply stirred by a chance recommendation of a blogger to a Workbook lesson this week – Lesson 125. I hadn’t looked at the book for months.

    More of a Quakerly lesson I think. I’m cautious of equating emotion with god-consciousness, but not afraid to admit of a deep ontological longing – and grateful for your interpretation.

  3. Paul Hamell Says:

    Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
    I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
    In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
    I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
    And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
    Others will punctually come forever and ever.
    -Walt Whitman

    Did old Walt really feel such contentment about it? Would he have been able to open a bag of potato chips and eat just one?

    Be greedy for God; ask and ye shall receive!

    • R.H. Francis O'Hara Says:

      al Hamdulillah !

    • Marny Says:

      Do you think the world was kind to Walt Whitman?

      • Paul Hamell Says:

        Is that the question? I doubt if Old Walt thought it was.

        The world has never been truly kind to anyone, but happiness is always within our reach, and is the purpose of our lives. (I’m channeling the Dalai Lama here.) That which makes us truly happy is loving-kindness (compassion), and such an attitude and such actions are always available to us as a choice. I know that I have previously written that love is the sole purpose of our lives. (Do I contradict myself? So be it. -Walt Whitman) But this isn’t a contradiction, because, as the Buddhist wisdom above suggests, love and happiness are inseparable.

        Not being foolishly consistent,

  4. navasola Says:

    Apart from something to do with God, what exactly does ‘al Hamdulillah !’ mean?
    I heard this too John. Was reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras more recently and just contibuted an extract from Geoffrey Hubbard’s ‘Quaker by Convincement’ (from the chapter ‘The Spiritual Experiment’) to the BYM forum at which perhaps ‘speaks to thy condition’. I think the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ recommends IMAGINING that you are dead or will die before the end of you ‘meditation’to find the pearl.
    But how you’re longing sounds like the great Sufi poets! I’ve just finished Jon Kabat-Zin’s ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ – could just help to easse your misery and passage1

    • Thy Friend John Says:

      Thank you, Trevor! As I understand it, “Alhamdulillah” means something very close to “praise be to God” with the suggestion also of “glory to God,” “thanks be to God,” and “hallelujah.” But it has all those L’s in it that make your tongue feel like a living flame, and that heavy Arabic H near the beginning that forces air out of your chest like the start of a sob or a laugh, so I’d guess that it has no exact English equivalent.

      It can be parsed this way: Al- [definite article] + hamd- [praise] + -u [nominative case ending] + [verb to be, imperative or optative mood, understood] + li- [unto] + ‘l- [definite article again] + Lah [God] + [-i, oblique case ending, understood but not pronounced]. But I don’t really know Arabic; it’s just one of those languages that I admire from afar.

      I look forward to reading your Geoffrey Hubbard extract, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you; today it’s also a consolation. I recently prayed to be given the gift of tears, so I shouldn’t be surprised to find my longing for God intensified but left unsatisfied. But I believe that God has taken the trouble to explain why He’s left me in such a state, and for that kindness I’m very grateful.

      The most obvious thing is that He needs me to get certain assignments done before I taste Paradise. Imagine me going into samādhi like Ramakrishna and then having to go on taking the subway to my dumb factory job so I could continue to help my kids through college, no longer caring whether my body lives, dies, eats, or wears clothes. Would I even get to work? I might spend the day dancing in the street and healing the sick. Or imagine me blissing out and levitating at the Pastoral Care Committee meeting instead of carefully recording the minutes. And would my wife want a partner who no longer wanted sex, laughed at jokes, or participated in normal conversation? The point is, total liberation might disable me from doing things the Lord needs me to do, like talk to fellow sufferers with the compassion that only a fellow sufferer can have.

      Or to put a sharper point on it: Christ might need me to preach His gospel while still ignorant, guided not by direct knowledge of the Eternal Truth but only by faith, because my ignorant hearers might need to hear it from one who’s still in bondage like themselves, another sinner-in-recovery — otherwise I couldn’t serve as a role model.

      Meanwhile, I’m learning patience, self-restraint, love, kindness and trust the same way everyone else does, not with a lightning-flash revelation but step by plodding step, so that when the Lord does see fit to put the final perfecting touch on me His creature, I’ll be just the way He wants me to be. I wouldn’t want my life to proceed in any way but His way. Hey — I don’t need to be an enlightened master to know _that_.

  5. Trevor Bending Says:

    John, Sorry I didn’t reply before. You can sign up to the forum at to see what Friends in BYM (Britain Yearly Meeting – inheritors of the ‘original’ London Yearly Meeting?) are up to!

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