I didn’t learn about God in the usual way that most kids do. It wasn’t from Sunday School or going to church. It wasn’t from my parents or grandparents. I learned about God through experiences of wonder in nature. I have vivid memories of being a small child and looking up into the night sky, seeing the moon, and sensing that there was someone looking back at me. I recall as a teenager, one beautiful autumn afternoon, lying on a grassy hilltop and feeling alive to something beyond myself. I now know that what I was experiencing in my body in those moments was a felt sense of God.
Sadly, our innate capacity to experience a felt sense of God is suppressed through one of the most common conditions affecting one third of Americans today: anxiety. Which brings me to my second musing about what is going on when God seems far away. (If you missed Part 1, you can find here.)
When we’re hijacked by anxiety, we ignore important information from our body’s inherent God-receptors.
Yes, that’s right. Approximately 1 in 3 Americans struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD. That tells us something, doesn’t it?! It tells us that the world doesn’t feel safe to many of us. There’s just so much bad news reported all the time—bad news that’s constantly streaming past our eyes and ears, often delivered through graphic and violent language and images.
When we are hijacked by anxiety, we check out from our bodies and merge with our anxious thoughts/feelings, almost as if we’ve become our anxious thoughts/feelings. We become so absorbed with anxiety that we disconnect from bodily sensations and the all-important visceral receptors in the core of our torso that help us detect, among other things, the loving presence of God-with-us.
These receptors send important messages (intuitions/gut instincts) to our brain, registering a felt sense of our experience of life. A felt sense is a physical knowing, a knowing in our body, an *“intuition, an inner grasp or insight into the nature of some reality without detailed analysis.” In other words, our visceral receptors in our chest and abdomen actually send heart/gut information to our brains that help us detect the presence of a loving God. Without this information, God seems far away.
During the three long weeks of David’s ordeal, I forgot what it was like to feel good or normal. In fact, it seemed as though we would never return to normal. Anxiety blurred the edges of our life and kept us focused on surviving. Even for weeks after, I continued to feel a generalized anxiety, wondering when the next crises might happen, when the next proverbial shoe might drop. I was out of touch with my body and its felt sense of God’s presence with me—an experience that was very disorienting.
Being out of touch with my body isn’t anything new. You’ve probably been taught as I have to fear and distrust your body because it’s driven by all manner of lusts. Or to ignore your body and relate to it solely for utilitarian purposes. Me, too. To make matters worse, you and I have also been brainwashed to favor thinking as a superior way to know God.
But the truth is our bodies are astounding carriers of spiritual truth! To ignore them, because of anxiety or distrust or debasement, is to cut ourselves off from the very source that can help us discern the presence of God in our daily lives. So, when God seems far away, just remember that it’s not necessarily a spiritual issue. It may actually be a physical one!
Sometime this week, in the quiet of the evening, when the sky is dark and the moon bright, go outside and look up. Take in the star-studded night sky. And pay attention to what happens in your body as you do.
*Wilkie Au and Norene Canon, The Discerning Heart, Pg. 83