In the summer following my graduation from high school, I spent six weeks at Pendle Hill
, a Quaker center near Philadelphia. Pendle Hill gave me a holistic education. I developed a practice of exercise, and to notice how my body responded to different kinds of food and activities. I participated in extended periods of silent worship, and I began a regular practice of journaling, which I continue to this day. I learned to look beyond surface-level facts and see what was happening at a deeper level.
Beginning that summer and continuing over the next couple of years, I became increasingly self-aware. I came to realize that neither my emotions, nor my body, nor my conscious mind were all of who I was. At first, I experienced this realization as a distressing sense of disconnection. If my body was not who I was, nor my emotions, nor my mind, then who was I?
Eventually, I became aware of a part of myself that was neither mind, body nor emotion. Physically, I experienced it as being centered in my breath. It felt like a hollow, receptive place where there was both emptiness and fullness. Inexplicably, in the emptiness of my breath, I identified the core of who I really was. Strangest of all, I developed a capacity to be aware of myself almost like an outside observer.
I took note of the signals my body was sending me, but I chose how to respond from the center. I experienced emotions flooding over me – but my awareness ran deeper than the emotions, and I could decide how to react. I studied my thought patterns with interest, realizing that even my own ideas were just like the signals that came from body and emotions: important, worth paying attention to, but not defining me.
I still remember my surprise upon discovering this hidden center within myself. Because it seemed empty, my first reaction was to wonder whether “I” really existed at all! If there was nothing there at my core, then who was I? I struggled here for a long time. In college, I drifted away from Christian faith, eventually becoming philosophically pantheist
and politically anarchist
. Yet, I was still wrestling deeply with issues of truth and meaning. At the heart of those struggles, the most fundamental question continued to be: “Who am I, really?”
It was with this budding awareness of my interior landscape and my deep thirst for truth and meaning, that I graduated from college in the spring of 2004. I became an intern at the Casa de los Amigos
, a Quaker center in Mexico City. There, I had the opportunity to study Quakerism in depth and to participate in silent worship with a local Quaker congregation.
In the silence, my interior awareness exploded. In Quaker worship, there was nothing for me to do except attend to the holy center
. I waited in the empty space within my breath until I discovered that it was not empty at all. There was something alive and moving in the midst, something that came from beyond me and was far greater than anything I could imagine. As I waited in stillness, I discovered that the God I had looked for everywhere else was here, waiting for me, in the core of my being. In the darkness, there was Light; in the emptiness, infinite Substance. And this Substance was teaching me! It showed me the truth about myself, revealing the places in my body, mind and emotions that were broken. From the inside out, this miraculous Presence began to heal and transform me.
I know now that this loving Presence within me is the Holy Spirit. I understand now that this receptive place within my breath is like the holy of holies in the ancient Jewish Temple, the inner sanctuary where the very presence of God resided. I have learned both from Scripture and in my own experience that, when I accept this inward Substance and Presence into my life, I become part of the Temple of God.
Experience has also taught me that this inward Holiness will not be confined to the innermost sanctuary. This Life and Power is like a fountain springing up within me. It fills my spirit, mind, emotions and body, transforming and uniting all of them in their common Source. Amazingly, I am learning that I am called to be so filled with Christ’s Spirit that I am remade in his likeness. As that empty space within me is filled, my most profound identity becomes the very person of Jesus,
and I myself become a child of God, co-heir to the promise
Perhaps I am speaking in terms that seem mysterious. It is true, these realities are mysterious! Human words stumble in expressing their depths. Yet, ultimately, these things are not to be explained, they are to be lived into. Furthermore, the experiences that I have described do not have to be accepted as mere beliefs. Check and see for yourself. Anyone can test these observations – if they are willing to look within and bear the distress of self-knowledge.
This awareness does come at a price. Though it is available to everyone, our tendency is to flee from the inner life. It is just too painful to see ourselves as we really are. It is no coincidence that the ancient Hebrews begged Moses to go up and speak to God for them. They knew very well that to see God means to die. Yet, for those who have journeyed to the inward mountaintop and stood in the presence of God, the pain of transformation is nothing compared to the depths of joy and peace that God gives us as we are remade in the image of Christ. As we allow the Presence to flow out from the holy of holies, we are clothed in God’s humility and gentleness, truth and mercy, love and justice.
The road is long, and great challenges accompany it, but to begin is simple. The way to God’s presence lies within. In the apparent emptiness of our breath – this holy center – we can welcome God’s beautiful Life into our innermost parts. This transforming Power is available to everyone, if we will seek it.