The problem for most of us is that we don’t realize how united we are with God. Except in rare moments of mystical experince, most of us don’t generally feel such intimacy with the Divine. Even if we believe devoutly that God is present with us, our usual experience is that we are “here” and God is “there,” loving and gracious perhaps, but irrevocably separate. “We just don’t understand ourselves,” says Teresa [of Avila], “or know who we are.”
At worse, we give lip service to God’s presence, but then feel and act as it we were completely on our own. I think of church committee meetings, pastoral counseling sessions, or even spiritual direction meetings I have attended. They often begin with a sincere prayer, “God, be with us (as if God might be in attendance at another meeting) and guide our decisions and our actions.” Then at the end comes, “Amen,” and the door crashes shut on God-attentiveness. Now we have said our prayers and it is time to get down to business. The modern educator Parker Palmer calls this “functional atheism . . . the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with me.”
Gerald May was one of many who helped guide me years ago through some unexplored theological territory, which eventually led to The Sin of Certainty.