Most communication around God and the life of the spirit is visual or auditory. Cathedrals were built and artwork painted and sculpted to visually inspire awe and reverence. Biblical writers, preachers, theologians, teachers, and contemplatives have used words as bread crumbs leading to spiritual paths and insights.
But there is another way I believe God and spirit may be experienced: kinesthetically. It is primal and pre-rational, our first encounter with something beyond ourselves. It begins in our mother’s womb, immersed in embryonic fluids, nourished and protected by our mother’s flesh. We feel the pulsing of her heart. On a men’s retreat, I heard the Franciscan Richard Rohr speculate that men’s love of drumming may come from that early memory of our mother’s heartbeat.
I hope it’s not just me that takes pleasure in idiosyncratic kinesthetic experiences. It will date me, but as a child I took pleasure sitting in the car, enjoying its gentle rocking motion as a service station attendant wiped the windows clean. Before I could do it for myself, it made me feel good to have someone tie my shoes. And I loved going to the barber, with his gentle touching and trimming.
A source of humor for my partners and friends, as a child and as an adult, I feel comforted by the vibration of someone vacuuming. I used to follow whoever performed this task from room to room for the kinesthetic pleasure of it. It’s not the same when I do it myself, so it must have something to do with the feeling of being taken care of.
And being held, in a mother’s lap or a loved one’s arms, is best of all.
What prompts this reverie? For weeks now, painters have been pressure-washing and painting our complex, and today is our turn. We have a friendly relationship, though my Spanish is as wanting as their English. Despite my reliance on verbal communication as a writer and speaker, reader and listener, just their presence is enough for me to feel cared for.
And that’s true also of my experience of God. Though I read and pray, the good feelings come when I sit in silence, in contemplation, enjoying an intuitional feeling of being surrounded by God’s presence. I wonder now if that’s what Henri Bergson, the earliest process theologian I read in college, meant when he wrote that intuition is as necessary as reason. Intuition may also be primal and pre-rational. No doubt science can explain it, possibly through genes or neural patterns or evolutionary biology. But there’s also no doubt we can enjoy it.
Many search for a sensational and supernatural God, an overwhelming, intervening and transforming God of drama and spectacle. Jesus noted that desire when he resisted those looking for signs and wonders, instead welcoming and healing souls most often with his gentle touch.
I enjoy a God of gentle sensations: a breeze on the hairs of my neck, the warmth of a loved one, the caress of the water as I swim, the sensuality of my sweat as I run. I believe that God’s gentle touch is built into our natural world.
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and originating blogsite, “Progressive Christian Reflections.” Donations to this ministry are welcome!
Chris will be co-leading a retreat for gay and bisexual Christian men at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, Thursday dinner Oct. 4 through lunch on Sunday Oct. 7, 2012, in Pennsylvania, open to the public. We will consider the “good things” of our religious traditions that help us thrive.
Read Glaser’s latest Huffington Post article about the Democratic National Convention and an inclusive church: “That’s What I Want in a Church!”