I’ve been thinking a lot about the different ways I experience God, and I thought it would be good to write about it…to share the ways God can (and is) tangible to us. I will preface by saying, I was raised in the church, a traditional United MethodistChurch, which is to say, we didn’t really talk about how we might “feel” God. We believe God is real. We believe in the traditional doctrines (you can get a sense of those from the Apostle’sCreed). We believe Christians are to live their faith and to become more like Christ as they do that. And, in practice, we were “reverent” (read: quiet, well-mannered, didn’t clap in worship, didn’t speak out of turn, etc). And in that tradition, my faith grew. I learned the stories of the Bible. I learned to care for others (even if I didn’t like them). I learned generosity. I learned selflessness. I learned to pray. And I learned to have a “thinking faith” where it was ok to ask questions, to have doubts, and to explore the historicity of the Bible and how that converges with faith.
But what I didn’t really learn is how you “feel” God. I think the closest tangible expression of God that I might have asserted is feeling peace in difficult circumstances. But as I grew and developed in life and in faith, I started to learn that there were other ways, tangible ways, we could experience God. God wasn’t just in our head or our hearts, but God is also around us in the form of the Holy Spirit and can be felt.
The first time I remember experiencing this was at Santa Paula UMC. It was a bilingual congregation and my brother (a UM pastor) had been asked to preach. He had some Spanish, but not really enough to do a full sermon. So, he asked me to do the translation since I had just finished a full year of study abroad and came back bilingual. Before the service, our mom came and talked with us and offered to pray for us. She put a hand on each of us and began to pray…and her hands were hot on our backs/shoulders. She wasn’t feverish, and to touch her hands in general, she wasn’t hot, but as she prayed, heat transferred to us. And I understood that heat to be the presence of the Holy Spirit. God could be felt…tangibly, physically.
It was a small thing, heat during a prayer, but it became a big deal…an entry point for the other ways God would become manifest in me and in others confirming the power and presence of the Living God.