Nearness to God

By Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas

“We are closer to him than his jugular vein.”   (Qur’an 50:16) 

“The lover visible, the Beloved invisible: Whose crazy idea was that?”  ~Rumi

Ever since childhood, when I first heard mention of the word “God,” I pictured Him as an old man with a gray beard living up in the sky.  Where did I get that image? Certainly not from my parents, who were avowed Atheists.  I guess our culture inculcates these images in us without any specific intentionality. At the tender age of 16, I began to follow a living Indian Guru from the Sikh lineage of Guru Nanak.  He, too, talked about God, but used the lens of many different religions and religious texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Qur’an, the Bible and the Vedas. At that point I tried intellectually to expand my concept of God.  I read many books describing God as “Immanent and Transcendent,” and I tried to imagine what that would mean. I was told that God was “Beyond all Comprehension,” “Indescribable,” “Unknowable.” The first (and only) time I prayed as a child was when I was 8 years old, and my baby sister was born.  She was 2 months premature and weighed 2 lbs. 12 oz. at birth. We were told she might not make it, despite incubation technology. I remember thinking, “Well, if there is a God, this would be a good time to pray to Him!” so I did. I didn’t tell anyone, as I don’t think it would have gone over well in my family.  My sister survived, although I was not sure whether to credit God or modern technology. But I knew I was grateful!

After quite a few years of searching, reading, and exploring, I finally gave up on God.  I figured if I couldn’t know God, I could at least try to be a good person, which is something my parents modeled beautifully. But in the depths of my being, I longed to see God with my own eyes, and know God in my Heart of hearts.  

Much later in my adult life I discovered Sufism, and found that it is based on an incredibly personal relationship with God.  This was truly comforting. Sufi mystics talk about God as dwelling in the innermost heart of each human being. They teach that “Even if you cannot see God, know that God sees you,”   (Hadith of Prophet Mohammad), “God is the breath inside the breath.” (Kabir) and “Every-so-where you turn is the Face of Allah.” (Qur’an 2:115) In a way, however, that felt like a bit of a cop-out. It still begs the question of how we find God!  If God is everywhere, why are we so unaware of God’s Presence? Actually I have come to believe that the many layers of ego, the masks we wear to please and impress others, the actions we take to gain acceptance and love, our conditioning that has taught us to criticize and despise ourselves,  all these veil the Presence of the Perfect One who dwells within out Innermost Heart.  

Perhaps this is one reason why the Sufi practice of placing a hand on the Heart, telling the Heart, “I love you,” and thanking the Heart, is so powerful.  This practice put us in touch with that part of ourselves that is already connected with God. Little by little the veils are swept away, and the Countenance of the One Most High becomes apparent to us, not through our own efforts, but by surrendering our efforts, our searching and our reasoning, and by simply acknowledging the Truth of our own Existence.

What ways have you found to become closer to Divinity, without and within?

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