An odd thing happened on a recent Saturday morning at a retreat I was attending. Following breakfast, I set off on a short multi-tasking walk, during which I caught up on incoming email and voice mail, there being no connectivity at the retreat center. (I like to think of this as less an addiction and more a life-sensitive triage -- after all, I answered only one urgent email and returned two phone calls -- but an honest self-examination might reveal a different reality.)
Then I returned to my room for a period of lectio divina and silent prayer. Opening the Bible haphazardly, I began to read the psalm I had opened to when I felt the Bible being gently pulled from my hands. I laid it on the floor beside me and immediately found myself enveloped within and without by the Presence in an all-consuming embrace that I believe is what the old mystics called union.
It was a brief encounter but, as always, powerful. It left me out of breath. I have overcome the urge to push away God's advance, and so I relaxed into it that morning, noticing only some difficulty in breathing, not an atypical reaction for me in cases of contemplative prayer and union, where I experience a re-awaking of the sense of a divine invasion that accompanied the hierophany that caused my conversion. I suppose it is still a bit of a fear reaction although of what there is to be afraid I have not the slightest idea.
From the pushaway to passive panicky breathing lies a significant distance trod in a relationship with God. Fortunately, God is also persistent in love. In sha allah, as the Arabs say, with time and more distance traveled together, I will develop the instinct to return the embrace. That is, after all, what I yearn to do.
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