One of the reasons I value being part of a sacramental tradition is that it allows me to get off the exhausting hamster wheel of striving to “experience God.”
I don’t need to cultivate an environment where I have “all the feels” to encounter God. Neither do I need to strive to attain “profound thoughts” to know God. All I need to do is come to the table. Eat the bread, drink the wine.
Seeking God in the extraordinary
The thing is, I used to seek God in the extraordinary (all the feels, profound thoughts), but it became like a drug.
As with any drug, tolerance built up and I always needed a higher high. More intense emotion! Profounder thoughts! A new insight I’d never seen before!
Eventually I realized I wasn’t really seeking God himself as much as I was wanting him to provide me with some experience of transcendence that would finally validate me as a significant person in his eyes. The transcendent experience would prove that God really is with me.
And seriously, even for those who can do these things, what an exhausting life! Striving and performing, hoping for validation. Assuming that to live significantly I have to be operating in this “super-spiritual” realm that only a few have access to. In many ways, it was a kind of gnosticism.
Neither emotion nor insight
I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but it seems that:
- Evangelicals hope to meet God in our profound thoughts and new insights about him, and
- Charismatics hope to meet God in our heightened emotions for him.
But what about the poor in spirit? Those who can’t make heads of tails of all this “spiritual” stuff? Can they encounter God, too?
What about the mentally handicapped who can’t understand atonement theories? Can they know God?
What about those who don’t feel their emotions as strongly and readily as others? What about those who’ve turned their emotions off to survive? How can they encounter God if they don’t know how to crank up all the feels?
Sure and certain means
So back to where we started: one of the gifts of the sacramental tradition is found in this beautiful, deceptively simple statement from the Anglican catechism:
The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.
The sacraments are a “sure and certain means” of receiving grace. We don’t need heightened emotions (as lovely as they can be) or profound thoughts (as wonderful as they can be). We just need to come to the table.
No need to drum up emotion or think deeply, just come to the water to be baptized. Come to the table, eat the bread and drink the wine. This is our “sure and certain means” of encountering the God who is with us. We meet God in bread and wine. We meet God in water.
The beautiful thing is that anyone can come to the table. You don’t need emotional intelligence or intellectual acumen to receive the bread and wine. The body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven! The blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation!
Finding God in the ordinary
And it goes beyond the “official” sacraments, too. Coming to the table, encountering God in bread and wine is training me to find God in all kinds of ordinary.
I’m learning to see God everywhere, and it’s beautiful. It’s all a sacrament, in some ways. The particular sacraments train me into sacramental living.
And one of the things I’m learning is that I already have everything I was seeking. when I was seeking the extraordinary. It was here the whole time! I just couldn’t see it, like Jacob falling asleep on heaven’s gate.
Profound thoughts and beautiful emotions come and go, but week by week we come to the table and encounter the welcome of God, and receive his grace in the ordinary elements of bread and wine.
As bread and wine are consumed in us and become one with us, we are consumed in the love of God and become one with him. Transformed, then, we encounter our ordinary lives as the gate of heaven.
Why? Because the sacraments are sure and certain means of grace. Embracing them as such frees us from the striving necessary to sustain heightened emotions or new insights. Just come to the table!