Tiger Hill Temple, Suzhou
This series of essays on personal inner practice is dedicated to the memory of Rohan Gupta.
I was in the garden a few days ago when the Presence of God came to me, as it so often does (for I am no stranger to Him, though He surely is to me) and I knew of Him at once—as one always does, for one never wonders whether God is God, when He comes!—and I was reminded, as I so often am, of how His Presence comes despite my abject sin and unworthy nature; for that is precisely the essence of His love, that He loves us despite our nature. And although I have endured (for it is a kind of glorious and perfect anguish) His Presence so many times, this one time seemed different; for He gave it to me through Grace that I could see so clearly that the kingdom of Heaven truly lies within us and is gifted through Grace. One can easily know this without truly knowing it; and one only truly knows it once God knows it for one. Known through God, any one thing (no matter what it may be) is quite different than when I know it through myself. So beware of the difference between knowing easily, which is of this world, and knowing truly, which is of God.
It is in us but not of us; and this is how we can know so clearly—how I know so clearly—where the kingdom of Heaven is located. This though I am never more than poised on its threshold, for to cross into that (for now) forbidden Glory is to die; and we are all fated to live out our allotted time on this earth before we can cross over into that eternal Glory which is not only promised, but ever present. Until then, we taste; but we do not wholly eat of that fruit.
So this Grace comes to bring Glory; and in that instant I know what Mercy is, because God sends Glory through Grace simple because of His Mercy.
OH most glorious Lord! How unworthy we are to receive thy Grace.
One must know this through the mind, the body, and the feelings, all three ways; for one way to know it is not enough, nor are two. We must know it, as the most ancient prayers say, with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our minds. It's in this way that we are brought into the light of the Lord.
This light must be a most secret light within; not one carried on one's sleeve for show. In fact, the better and the more one worships the Lord in secret—and constantly, one must always worship constantly—the more He will reward us.
When the Presence of the Lord flows into us—as it did the other day in the garden (and, dearest ones, there is even a glorious little taste of it in me now, for He is ever generous)—we know the Lord directly, and not through books or the words of prophets. This is what He wishes for us; to be in the smallest and most intimate sense touching His Being from the inner darkness of our own soul. That darkness may be a lack, an insufficiency; for it is born in sin. Yet it is also the same darkness from which Love is born, because the two need one another, and we cannot know Love unless we know sin and go against it. These are complex mysteries one must explore within one's self; yet this principle of coming to the Lord on blended knee, in inner darkness, is essential. One must do this many times, always in the most abject position of an inner submission; and the more one submits, the more Grace can penetrate.
This is Islam— submission.
Grace comes as a power, a force that flows into us. One knows God through that power which is not an earthly power and has no outward earthly uses. What it can transform always lies within a human being and never outside them; so we must forget any ideas about outer transformation (which we will cling to very stubbornly, even if the Lord should bless us in great measure) and surrender all things in ourselves, trusting to the Lord alone.
These are things I know are true, not through my own works, but the works of God.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.