Each slow and deliberate step of the labyrinth was especially pronounced due to the loud crunch of the snowy January ground beneath my boots. A contemplative prayer walk wasn’t exactly on the agenda for the weekend as I along with a couple good buddies retreated into the mountains for some mid-winter snowshoeing. Nevertheless, there was this labyrinth conveniently located just down the road from our cabin so I decided to take advantage of it.
My body determined not to hurry through it. My mind, on the other hand, was a chaotic flurry of thoughts ranging from what I had for breakfast to what needed to be accomplished that next week.
This level of intimacy in my prayers doesn’t happen often for me and when it does it can be awkward to talk about especially among men. When my bros asked how the labyrinth worked out for me I had to laugh. The night before we’re drinking beers and smoking pipes on the porch and now I’m babbling on about how it felt like I just danced with the Trinity.
How often do we talk about intimacy? And when we do how often is it attached to pop-culture notions of sex?
I think sex is important to God, but so much of Jesus’ language is intensely intimate while clearly not about having sex.
just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…” ~ John 17:21
The mystics talked this way. Throughout her writings on the spiritual life, mystic, Teresa of Avila described prayer in a similar way, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
A brief look at other mystics throughout history turns up a language saturated with an intimacy that is absent in the way most of us talk about our faith. If Christianity is to be the good news we claim it is we’ll be well served to discover this intimacy the mystics found.
We don’t just stumble into it. Reading Teresa of Avila reminds me that I’m not conditioned for this type of ongoing intimacy. I’d much rather go to the gym to work on my physical body than train my soul to be open to accept the union and wholeness God offers.
Why is this needed way of intimacy with God so elusive for us?
I have a couple curiosities.
We don’t understand the nature of the Holy Spirit. Actually, church councils, saints and scholars throughout the centuries haven’t either. It’s the one person of the Trinity that we struggle finding rational biblical conclusive clarity with. The Spirit is mystery and we struggle with mystery. The Spirit is often described as breath or wind and we can't bottle up and control the wind. We can only condition ourselves to accept it.
The Spirit also possesses feminine qualities and cultures throughout history have struggled with the feminine. Jesus called her a comforter and an advocate. It would seem that discovering a fresh way of intimacy with God has more than a little to do with discovering the Holy Spirit via our feminine energy.
Christians struggle with keeping the Sabbath. This past year we have become good friends with a Jewish family in our neighborhood. We've experienced several Shabbat dinners and have received a first hand look at just how serious they take their Saturdays. They don't cook, do laundry, or even flip on light switches. It's one day in the course of their weekly chaos where earning, control, and the entertainment buzz gets shelved. It just makes sense that a discovery of this intentional way of rest would cultivate and condition the soul for intimacy. By the way, keeping the Sabbath is one of the 10 commandments - right up there with don't kill people or commit adultery.
So, can we condition ourselves for intimacy?
Hundreds of Ted Talks and our Twitter feeds are filled with catalytic ideas but I don't think they're transforming us or our culture quite like we think they are. What my soul longs for is intimacy not more overly-simplistic sound bytes of stimulating information.
Whether it's through walking a labyrinth, praying though prayer beads, or re-establshing a rhythm of sabbath rest we're being invited to crawl into the lap of God and recognize that the security and authority that comes with spiritual intimacy is nearer than we imagine.