When do you feel close to God? Each of today’s readings invites us to ponder this question. Each touches on the intimate nature of our relationship with The One Beyond and with one another. Elijah draws close to God as the end of his time on earth nears. Elisha draws close to his mentor, not wanting to lose their closeness, even at the very end. Jesus draws near to God on the holy mountain as he communes with Moses and Elijah. Peter, James, and John, Jesus’ closest friends, are welcomed into the experience of a lifetime; one they desire to last forever. Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth that the light of God has shown in our hearts. The Psalmist proclaims God’s invitation, “Gather before me my loyal followers.” Each passage depicts a closeness with God: a physical closeness, or a spiritual closeness, or an emotional closeness. When do you feel close to God?
When I meet with couples in premarital counseling I have them do an exercise to explore the different facets of intimacy. The origins of the word ‘intimate’ tell us that it combines two different meanings into one idea: first, “to take that which is deep seated or most inward” paired with “to make known, announce, or notify.” In other words, intimate situations are those where we feel comfortable allowing what is most deep and personal within us to come out and be known by others. I wonder if when most people hear the word ‘intimacy’ they associate it primarily with its physical/sexual component. While this is a part of intimacy to be sure, it is only one facet of many that work to bring a couple into closeness.
Not too long ago I began to ponder what it means to be intimate with God and wondered if the same exercise I do in premarital counseling might help us to discern the rich and diverse ways we feel close to God. So I put a little thought into it and developed the handout you were given this morning. On it there are ten facets of intimacy along with a brief (incomplete to be sure) description of what this form of closeness with God looks like. I am going to give you some time to read over the form and fill it out. On the left hand side I want you to rank the facets of intimacy from 1 to 10 – one being the most important to you and 10 the least. So you should have one #1, one #2, one #3, and so on. On the right hand side I want you rank how present each form of intimacy with God is in your life - #1 being totally present, #10 being totally absent with numbers in between representing degrees on the continuum. There are no right or wrong answers and no one is going to look at you sheet so take a few minutes and see what you come up with.
Intimacy with God Exercise
Emotional Intimacy–I sense God knows and cares how I feel and draws close to me at all times.
Intellectual Intimacy–I feel close to God as I read, study, and learn about God and God’s world.
Sexual Intimacy–I sense a oneness with God in every fiber of my being.
Recreational Intimacy–I feel close to God when I am doing activities I enjoy (things like fishing, working out, walking on the beach…)
Work Intimacy–The work I do—either at the job or around the house and yard—draws me close to God.
Communication Intimacy–I feel close to God as I talk with God in prayer and listen to God through meditation.
Aesthetic Intimacy–I feel close to God when I read a book, listen to music, watch a movie, and/or engage in the arts.
Crisis Intimacy–I feel close to God when times are tough, when I face challenges, and when the chips are down.
Commitment Intimacy–I sense God is close when I live the kind of life I promised to live at my baptism.
Conflict Intimacy–I sense God’s closeness as I work through a conflict with another person or group.
What did you learn from this? What surprised you? I expect that some facets of intimacy with God are more important to you than others and that some are more prevalent than others. That, I think, is OK. Praying may not be your thing or you may dread every aspect of the work you do. There are those in the Christian tradition who can guide you to a closer relationship with God in these or any of the other facets described. This can be difficult, intentional work, but also very rewarding. A good first step for each of us is to recognize those ways we naturally feel close to God and to build on them. If it is through reading, then read more. If it is walking on the beach, then walk on the beach and use the time to allow God into the depths of your being.
How close do you feel to God? What have you learned about yourself this morning that will help you to feel even closer?