Touching God sounds like an absurd idea. People commonly claim that God has touched them, but I can’t remember anyone claiming he or she has touched God. I wonder, why not? If we claim God is alive, and if we are alive, why don’t we claim to touch God?
In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explores the Trinity and the idea of touching God. Hang with me for a minute while I share a few of his observations. “When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy. . . . To me, mindfulness is very much like the Holy Spirit. Both are agents of healing. . . . In the Bible, when someone touches Christ, he or she is healed. . . . When you touch deep understanding and love, you are healed. . . . The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, penetrated Him deeply, and He revealed the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. . . . all of us also have the seed of the Holy Spirit in us . . . When we touch that seed, we are able to touch God the Father and God the Son.” Quite a statement for one of the leading Buddhist voices in the world.
I said at the beginning, “If we claim God is alive, and if we are alive, why don’t we claim to touch God?” Maybe the problem is not whether God is alive, but whether we are alive. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We always postpone being alive to the future, we don’t know exactly when.” Well, this is nothing new. We are aware of our human tendency to miss today because we are obsessed with the future. But listen to what he says next: “It is possible we will never be truly alive in our entire life.” That’s worth considering. Tolstoy, Thoreau, Gandhi, Julian of Norwich, and other great men and women have turned toward the simplified, slowed-down life to try to “be truly alive.” Think of Socrates’ “the unexamined life” and so forth. I’m not prepared to do what those folks did–become a cobbler, go to Walden, be the Gadfly of Athens, wall myself up in a room. But Thich Nhat Hanh says that even a schmuck like me can be truly alive: “The technique, if we must speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, that the only moment to be alive is the present moment.”
So we are back to mindfulness. “When you are really there,” he says (my italics), “showing your loving-kindness and understanding, the energy of the Holy Spirit is in you. . . . When the energy of the Holy Spirit is in us, we are truly alive, capable of understanding the suffering of others and motivated by the desire to help transform the situation.” Hmm . . . mindfulness . . . being in the moment . . . the Holy Spirit.
So is touching God an absurd idea? Do Buddhism and Christianity share something here? Can we touch God if we are not truly alive, and are we truly alive only in the present moment? Do we experience the present moment only through that deep awareness called mindfulness? Can we touch the Holy Spirit by practicing mindfulness (as opposed to the Holy Spirit touching us at any time, maybe the most unexpected and awkward times)?
When it comes to touching God, I am with this faithful Buddhist monk: “It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice.”