“When I am on the Heights, I say ‘I am He,’ and when I have a stomachache, I say ‘Mother, have mercy on me.” Swami Vivekananda [1]

“Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong; when You concealed Your countenance, I was afraid.” – Psalm 30:8


When God descends from on high to overshadow us with the full power of His/Her presence, we are totally transformed. We are filled with amazing inner strength and extraordinary confidence. We are ready to declare: “I am He” – I am the Imperishable, Eternal Self.

In Psalm 23, King David asserts, “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for You are with me.”

The overshadowing presence of God gives us enormous courage. When Moses killed the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave, he fled to Midian in fear for his life. After God’s revelation in the Burning Bush, however, Moses returned to Egypt and single-handedly faced the Pharaoh and the whole might of Egypt.

The prophet Elijah escaped into the wilderness when King Ahab sought to kill him. But three years later, when he was filled with the spirit of the Lord, Elijah summoned the king and the prophets of Baal to a spiritual battle before the whole nation on Mount Carmel. There, Elijah faced off against four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal in front of a gathering of thousands and called down a fire from heaven to affirm that Adonai, the God of Israel, is the one true Lord.

“You have anointed my head with oil, my cup runneth over” – Psalm 23:5

In God’s presence, we are saturated with an incredible joy. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the joy of God’s presence is greater than any physical joy.  It is a joy that only grows and deepens over time. Sri Ramakrishna spoke of spiritual joy as an all-encompassing, all-embracing bliss that permeates every pore of our being.

When Sri Ramakrishna was in a state of Divine ecstasy, he would stagger about like a drunkard, reeling from the intoxication, unable to even hold up his body cloth. When the Baal Shem was flooded with Divine light, not only would he be uplifted, so would all of his Hasidim. In fact, the whole of his community would be filled with unbounded joy.

 

God’s presence imbues us with a profound sense of humility. Moses, who spoke “face to face” with God, the Torah tells us, was “very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3) When the Patriarch Abraham stood in the presence of God, he proclaimed:  “I have taken upon me to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” (Genesis 18:27)

One night, one of Saint Francis’ disciples discovered him lying flat on his face, turned to heaven in prayer and crying out: “O my dearest Lord and God, what are Thou, and what indeed am I, Thy little, useless worm of a servant?”

When he asked Francis the meaning of this, he was told:

“In that prayer which thou didst hear, two lights were manifested to me: one light in which I knew the Creator, and one in which I knew myself. When I said, ‘What are thou, my Lord and God, and what am I?’ then I was in the light of contemplation, in which I saw the infinite depth of the Divine Godhead and my own wretched abyss of misery.’” [1]

God’s presence imparts to us a feeling of detachment from the things of this world. We realize that everything is fleeting and temporary – sand castles that will be washed away by the next wave of the Ocean of Eternity. As Swami Turiyananda once remarked, “When Mother is known, attachment goes. The world then become so small, so insignificant – a little mud puddle.” [2]

When we are bathed in the glory of the Divine light, everything else simply drops away. Nothing else really matters. All that we want is to remain in this state of oneness and peace forever. As Psalm 27:4 declares:

“One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I seek, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to visit His Sanctuary.”

Then there are the moments when God withdraws His presence, when He hides His face, and we are left as the emotionally limited and spiritually imperfect animal creatures that we are. As David exclaims in Psalm 30, “Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong; when You concealed Your countenance, I was afraid.”

In such moments, we feel useless and helpless. We feel broken and bereaved. In such moments, we can but cry out to God: “Mother, have mercy on me.”

 

At the same time, the more we go on, the more we are dependent on God. The more that we rely on God, the more we let go of the power of the personality to direct and bolster us. The more that we become our true Self, the more we can only do what God wills.

The further that we advance along the path, the less we care about what others may say or think about us. The stronger our link with our soul, the less we worry about failing in the world, and the only thing that we truly fear is to be cast out from God’s presence. As Psalm 51:3 pleads: “Do not cast us out of Your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit away from us.”

In the end, there is nothing else that gives us joy or brings us peace of mind except God. External beauty, physical excellence, material wealth, societal achievements, and momentary sensual pleasures all mean nothing by themselves. The happiness that we feel in the presence of other people, the contentment that we receive from physical objects or experiences are in direct proportion to the degree to which they radiate the Divine reality that lies behind the outer form.

As we spiritually mature, we come to understand that it no longer matters where we are or what we are doing. There is nowhere we can go unless God so wills it. There is nothing that we can do on our own. This realization does not create a sense of depression, sadness or impotency in us. Rather, we experience a profound sense of relief and liberation, knowing that God is the one who is in control. Each step we take, God is taking ten or even a hundred steps for us. Each move, God is leading the way.

At the beginning of our spiritual journey, we work to gain a glimpse of God, a moment of higher consciousness. Over time, this becomes a more frequent event. If we persevere and are steady in our practice and in the work of self-transformation, then we gradually reach a stage where we feel that God is present most of the time. There are still moments, however, when God feels far away, moments when we are denied the joy of the Sacred Divine Presence. Our life continues to revolve around the dual-reality that is so simply and sweetly described by Swami Turiyananda: “When Mother is near, all is well. In Her absence, difficulties begin.”[3]

Yet, slowly we begin to realize that even in these moments of absence, God is there. There is a kind of “knowing” on a deeper level, a steady flow of energy and an almost imperceptible line of consciousness that extends from God to us. As we assimilate this truth, we arrive at a different place where we just “are”, where we rest in God no matter what the circumstances. When we are filled with His power, then we identify with our higher Self and say, “I am He”; and when we feel broken and very human, we identify with our lower self and say, “Mother have mercy on me.”

 

Copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Swami Chetanananda, God Lived with Them
  2. Johannes Jorgensen, Saint Francis of Assisi
  3. Swami Ritajananda, Swami Turyiananda
  4. Swami Ritajananda, Swami Turyiananda

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