A reflection on John 20:19-31
I do love this story of Doubting Thomas as I often think that our doubt, rather than being a negative thing, which it is so often perceived as, can become a portal through which we can experience God in a new, rich and dynamic way.
Many of you know that my particular brand of the Christianity is what we might call contemplative. This tradition has been signposted by the desert fathers and mothers as well as Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila and many more.
This tradition acknowledges that belief alone can be very tricky for all sorts of reasons. As I've said before - we understand the human Jesus as we too are human, but the divine Christ, risen and ascended is not what we humans do and so like Thomas our belief in this mystery is challenged. But as with Thomas, it is not belief that leads the contemplative to a transformed life but rather the direct touch, or we might say experience of God - that dramatically alters our consciousness.
And we have all experienced direct encounters with God at different times in our lives all be they possibly fleetingly. Perhaps as we marvel, on a starry night at the mystery of creation and as we do so we sense the presence of the creator marvelling with us or even in us Indeed any time we contemplate God’s first book, the book of nature, we can become intimately aware of the divine presence in and through all things. We might feel the same wonderment as we hold a newborn baby and reflect on the miracle of life. Or then again, it might be in the depths of grief when we are completely undone by our pain that we encounter the direct and intimate awareness of the living Christ.
For the contemplative there is a deep longing to draw ever closer to this presence which seems to be centered in the depth of our own soul - and as we seek its company it reveals itself increasingly as a tangible life force to which we progressively awaken. Awareness of this presence requires that we rediscover our spiritual senses that enable us to intuit, or listen for, or feel its movement within us. We might think of silence as being God's first language and it is in stillness and silence that this ‘movement’ is encountered.
The problem for us in today's world is that we are bombarded with noise and distractions through the constant backdrop of traffic, TV, digital and mobile communications, and the demand for instant responses to emails, texts and so on. These have taken their toll on our ability to be still and to be present. Typically our solution to such bombardment has been to multitask so that we can cram more things into our lives. So much so that many people now find stillness and inner silence almost impossible - indeed for some a source of discomfort.
| And so to return to our passage. Thomas is struggling to believe and usually we interpret this to mean that he is looking for ‘empirical evidence’ but I think it was not so much ‘proof’ that Thomas was seeking but rather a direct encounter of the living God in his own soul. He didn’t want to ’hear’ about it ‘second hand’ - he wanted to touch and to be touched by God for himself.
Every contemplative knows the yearning for this touch. It is a deep longing that belief doesn’t necessarily satisfy and neither would scientific evidence were it ever available....Nothing less than this intimate contact will satisfy.
And so we find that the contemplative path offers many practices to aid the recovery of those senses that have become dormant amidst the noise of the world. .
It is really refreshing to see that simple mindfulness has become such common practice today. Mindfulness is the art of learning to be present and whilst it isn’t contemplative stillness as such it is certainly a first step towards recovering our inner senses.
Other practices include.
Lectio Divina - translated as divine reading. So often we come to scripture with the more modern, hard focus of analysis. Lectio takes us back to a much older practice of reflective reading and listening which culminates in silence.
I also advocate getting to know the book of nature. Here you will find the divine coursing through all things, here you will develop your sense of awe and wonder that reignites our yearning for God ... As Bishop Irenaus of Lyons once said
‘The initial step for us all to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.’
And then there is a regular daily practice of sitting and simply being, instead of our constant doing or even our wordy praying, just holding a quiet space within where we simply and intentionally host the divine presence.
It is not the scope of this reflection to teach or even list the many and varied contemplative practices found on this path, but I will cover them elsewhere on this website.
The point I make here is that with faithfulness to such practice we awaken to a rich, deep and ongoing awareness of God’s presence coursing through every aspect of our lives and the universe. So if you find yourself struggling with belief, think about Thomas and his need, not for proof of God, but rather for that direct touch….seek this with your whole heart and your yearning will be satisfied beyond its wildest imaginings.