In the previous article I talked about the spiritual sense of smell, as akin to our physical sense of smell (an attraction to something). The spiritual sense of smell is a symbol, a metaphor for attraction to being attentive to Spirit hidden all around us, as well as within us. This week, the focus is on touch, which is a symbol for our closeness to the divine, the feeling of being embraced and belonging.
The sense of touch is far more intimate than smell. It’s as if our heart has caught the scent, and then we move closer in order to be immersed in it—to be enveloped, to be touched. The presence of God is not only an irresistible attraction, but through touch, we are unified in our inmost being—we experience oneness. We talk about Spirit as the breath of life and being breathed by Spirit … is this not the ultimate and most intimate touch we can experience? As Tennyson said, “Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.”
Yet sometimes we are touched in ways that are painful or scary. Being able to feel pain—to be touched by suffering—is critical to our life, and we don’t always know if we want to touch these things. Who among us, when touching a hot stove, doesn’t immediately recoil and retreat to soothe the burn with cold water? It is the natural response to pain. But the deep, exquisite risk is to humbly lift the veil draped so long ago that we fearfully kept ourselves wrapped up in, and let life touch us, refresh us, renew us, and rearrange us.
The most powerful touches we encounter are those that seem unplanned, unrehearsed, and arrive unannounced. When we risk leaning into these unrehearsed moments, we discover the need to be open to life, the desire to be in the continuous flow of Spirit. However, there’s an interesting paradox inherent in the continuous flow of life energy. It always brings us to places where we must risk being open, being touched, and being vulnerable. If we do not allow this, we can never be changed by our experience. We won’t be anointed by the beauty and the suffering necessary to participate in our world—a world that invites us into a gritty and mysterious territory called our humanness. It is here that we are touched by Spirit, where we touch each other’s divinity—hence the paradox.
So how do we, as living, breathing, talking, walking portions of divinity, rejoice in the mystery of being human when touched in such painful ways? And when I say rejoice, I am not talking about finding a silver lining, or affirming away pain with the idea that there must be a blessing in there somewhere. I am referring to sitting in the quiet, the Silence, with the awareness that in every moment when a touch breaks me open, in every breakable thing around me, there remains, and will always remain, the unnameable and unknowable thing that is forever unbreakable.
Whether I am touched by life in ways that are sweet, empowering, ecstatic, peaceful, or joy-filled, or in ways that are painful, fearful, or despairing, when I attend to that touch, allow myself to be embraced by it, I am once again opened to the sheer joy of belonging to the Beloved, whose touch makes me quiver. I let go of my own identity and get lost in the delight of God. It then overflows and my body is touched—my physical body feels the touch and rejoices with my heart. As Father Thomas Keating says, “The spirit of God can transform the entire organism into an immense celebration of love, peace, and joy.”
On April 4, 1792, at the University of Oxford, Charles Wesley delivered a sermon titled “Awake Thou That Sleepest.” In the sermon, Wesley talks about what it means to be asleep and pleads with the listener to awaken, “to have the life of God living within you.” Wesley preaches that by awakening we experience a new birth, an inward change of our heart, and recapture the image of God in us. Finally, he tells us our spiritual senses are the “inlets of spiritual knowledge” through which this awakening happens.
Spiritual senses become the conduit for awakening, for experiencing the presence of Spirit, God, Atman, whatever we call it, here on earth—what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as the physical senses are our conduit for experiencing human life, the spiritual senses open our awareness of a divine world, a world we each make manifest—in and through and as ourselves.
The practice of prayer awakens this dynamic relationship. It is through prayer that this relationship becomes more profound, richer and intimate. Every faith tradition around the world has some form of prayer practice because it is through the activity of prayer that we touch the indwelling divinity. Through prayer we develop our spiritual senses and we touch divine wisdom. We put on the “mind of Christ,” become spiritually illumined and awake, and see the world with a changed heart and new eyes. As a result, our actions—how we are being in the world—unfolds that divine indwelling.
Our sense of touch never turns off—it is always at work, helping us explore our world and make meaning of things. Touch opens us, heals us and ultimately brings profound peace. Each sense broadens the depth and texture of life. I am awakened through these “inlets of spiritual knowledge” so the divine indwelling unfolds through prayer and action, touching the world in ways that are true, beautiful and good.
Reflections this week:
Choose a sacred object that symbolizes Spirit or the divine, something small enough to comfortably hold in your hand.
- With your eyes closed, take several minutes and feel the object in your hands. Slowly explore it with your fingers: the shape, texture, temperature, and size. What words come to mind to define how it physically feels?
- As you notice how it physically feels, in what ways does this mirror your experience or relationship with God or Spirit?
- Find a comfortable place to sit, inside or outside. Notice the textures all around you. How do these textures symbolize your own life experiences? How has it been different?
- Go and touch these textures you see around you. Are they rough, smooth, soft, slick, warm, cold, hard, etc.? Which textures remind you of God’s presence? Which seem like the opposite?
- As you take a deep breath, what do you touch soulfully that reminds you that you are the Divine in expression? That you are the holy one?
With every deep breath in today, let it be a reminder of being more open and alive, to knowing God as real, authentic and attentive.
NEXT IN THE SERIES: The spiritual sense of taste. Read.