Encountering Jesus


I do not claim to be any kind of expert or guru on this. I can only speak of my personal experience with God, and even in the telling, it uses language that doesn’t quite capture the essence.

In a way, describing the encounter with God is like describing being in love or being a parent. I can tell you how I met my wife. I can tell you the first time I said “I love you.” I can tell you something of the tenderness in her face when I wept in front of her two or three times when I was deeply upset. I might be able to estimate my pulse when she returns from being away for a few hours. I can describe events. But I can’t quite capture the real and full essence of it. Maybe I would need music. I just don’t have the language for it, I would say.

So I can tell you that my first church experience was, as I recall it, multivalent. My experience of a pipe organ playing was more than unfamiliar, but pleasant music. I had the sense of being surrounded by a cloud of music. It was more than listening: it was a sense of space. And presence.

I can tell you that there was an awareness of a community of people, especially my friend Michael, who was, in many ways, one of the best friends I had as a boy. I can tell you there was more to the reading and preaching of the Bible than just the words. That the priest talked about the Bible–something my Baptist mother did not do–was remarkable in my experience. But I don’t even recall the Scriptures read that day.

On my baptism day, I noticed the saints in the stained glass–the same ones I saw on my first visit to church eleven months earlier. In my mind, a formulation came to me that I was being called to a higher level of virtue now that I was going to be a Christian. I accepted this nudge with freedom and happiness. It wasn’t rational so much as a response to something offered to me. It was more a gift, a sense of space around me–like my first experience of church music.

When I entered the baptistery with my family and godparents, I noticed the Apostle’s Creed in the stained glass window. But my exchange in church a few minutes prior suggested that I was going to keep my eyes focused on the baptismal water and decline to use the “cue card” that had been provided for me.

It is in experiences such as these that I encounter God. But my retreat and summer studies with the Spiritual Exercises provided an opportunity to go deeper, and to do so personally with Jesus. To get all of the details you may need to wait for my memoir. Events like that, however, get adjusted in the memory and the re-telling of it.

I have always been a person of the mind. Even before I aspired to be an artist, I liked to think, to use my mind to ponder and understand the world around me. My encounters with Jesus bypass my thinking. I still use my brain to perceive and respond to the encounter, naturally. But I find that in the thinking about Jesus, the experience of the encounter dims. Not unlike thinking about mundane things during sex.

My most recent encounter, if you will, was mediated through St Teresa of Avila. In trying to make sense of my mother’s infirmities, and why I found myself in her house at this time in my life, I found this quote in her Fourth Mansion:

… the important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.

I don’t know that I look for serendipity so much as I try to be receptive in these situations. Receptivity was the approach during my first Mass and on my baptism day. I didn’t think or analyze the liturgical experience so much as I emptied myself of expectations.

I didn’t come back to Rochester this past week making lists of pros and cons about the long-term care of my mother and discussing it with my siblings in a detached manner.

I find that I more readily encounter Jesus in my life, and not just during prayer or dreams or theological experiences. But more subtly when I empty myself of the clutter and chatter and busy things.

I can only describe how it works for me, and describe it badly. Everybody else, including Max, you have to find your own way. Nobody does it for you.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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