First Stone: Encounter

Encounter with the Self
Encounter with Others
Encounter with the World
Encounter with The Transcendent


The unknown, mystery, initiation, awe, worship
Separation and vulnerability

"Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."

From the time we are born, we seem to be "hard-wired" for God, for The Great Mystery. Only humans ask "who, how, why". Who made the earth? Why do things happen? How can I find happiness and peace? Is there meaning and purpose to life? A child intuitively believes that something or someone is behind the miracle of creation and that there is a way to communicate with this Source. In fact, life seems to have given us many opportunities to imagine answers to these questions and to find God. An infant recognizes the smile of her parents which is a reflection of the inherent hospitality of the universe. As we grow, we encounter a Great Mystery in the beauty and wonder of the natural world, so marvelously made, and in the predictability and design and order of the universe. As time goes by, we experience the miracle of love, the delights of art and music, the skills our hands are capable of, and the wonderful workings of the human mind which Genesis, in the Jewish-Christian Bible, tells us God created in God's own image. (Genesis 1:26) Our hearts glow with awe and gratitude in these encounters.

To whom do we express this outpouring of gratitude - for life, for love, for beauty, and for the goodness of creation?

The search for God begins with a simple question and a longing, even before we can begin to understand or search for answers to the great questions of life. It is this question and this longing that creates and shapes religion. Religion is a product of community and is culture specific. It grows out of the life and experiences of a people in a particular cultural setting. Like language, religion is a framework, a medium through which we articulate our deepest longings toward something greater than ourselves, offer our worship of a transcendent presence in the universe and by means of which we communicate and dialogue with others. As humans, we have a built-in desire to know God and it is only logical that we search for God and formulate our answers in ways that make sense to us and that are confirmed by our experience and the experience of the community.

The spiritual life begins with the process of Encounter. In most instances, Encounter is something that happens to us, usually in our daily routines, and usually unexpectedly. A sudden flash of insight, or an awakening to an awareness of a deeper level of meaning in a past event. An Encounter may overwhelm us, or it may gradually dawn in our consciousness like a morning sunrise. An Encounter generates the possibility of new meaning, of hope, of an opening, of awe, wonder, beauty, love. We becomes energized, or we may become fearful, like Moses before the burning bush. Inwardly we may fall to our knees and confess our lack of understanding or of our inadequacy to deal with the new vision thrust upon us. We are challenged and energized to move forward, or our fear may impel us into retreat.

It is God or the Transcendent that initiates the Encounter but people seek the Encounter through the practice of religion. The change or awakening that takes place as a result of a long process of experiencing Encounter results in what religion calls "enlightenment" or "conversion". The great religions are each in their own way ancient, coherent, cohesive systems that teach and facilitate the Encounter through use of ritual, teachings, symbols and metaphors, stories and spiritual disciplines. Sometimes the symbol of a pilgrimage, or faith journey expresses this seeking. Most religions understand the faith journey as a process that goes on throughout a person's entire lifetime. Conversion or enlightenment comes about as a result of a person's desire to know God, seeking and asking and involves a complete reorientation of a person's life.

Making a pilgrimage to a particular holy site is an ancient spiritual discipline in many religions by which people hope to encounter the transcendent and deepen their understanding of God's will in their lives. It is a type of "vision quest", to use Native American terminology. In the magnificent Gothic cathedral at Chartres, France, there is a stone labyrinth built into the floor for those who were unable to make a pilgrimage to an actual sight. By walking the maze of the labyrinth in prayer and meditation, the faithful sought to emulate the actual making of a pilgrimage. This is a practice that has seen a revival in some spiritual communities.

As we walk our faith journey, or spiritual pilgrimage, we soon come to learn that there is much in the world that is painful. We become only too aware of negative feelings and harmful passions, of our ignorance, of our failure to be all that we want to be and the difficulty in understanding the meaning of life or what God wants from us. We suffer loss and despair. We hurt others and others hurt us. We experience separation and vulnerability. Our souls cry out for Someone or Something who can save us from life's sorrows and difficulties. We fear God is far away and may not care. We realize God is so much "other" than us.

To whom do we express these feelings of need, of loss?

We experience God as "The Transcendent One," the universe as a Great Mystery.

Second Stone: Community