Contemplative Prayer and a Wild God

I was fortunate enough this morning to be sent a link to a talk given a few years ago by John O’Donohue, the late great Irish poet and mystic, entitled ‘Imagination as the Path of the Spirit’. You can hear it here on this great youtube film.

So much of what we’re dreaming of in the Wellspring Community finds a voice in this talk. We find ourselves in a time when many people are deeply disappointed in the version of God they have been offered. A domesticated, disapproving God. Instead, we want to encounter, and help others encounter, a God who is surprising, wild, imaginative, and endlessly welcoming.

O’Donohue says:

I think that there is a wonderful danger in God that we have totally forgotten. Because one of the things humanoids like to do is they like to bring in the tamers to tame their deities down. They don’t like the idea of a wild God, because it could get very awkward, and deeply embarrassing…And one of the reasons that young people are leaving religion is because God has died for them, or become incredibly boring and uninteresting. And I think one of the tasks of our time, for those that are interested in God, is to make God dangerous again.

Surely, you might say, the last thing the world needs right now is religious people talking about a dangerous God. But O’Donohue isn’t talking about fundamentalism, which he says “is the answer to nothing, based on a past that never existed”. Instead, he quotes the great medieval mystic Meister Eckhart:

Nothing in the universe resembles God so much as silence.

Contemplative prayer, in which we seek stillness and spaciousness, allows us first to observe the patterns of our needy minds, and then to encounter this surprising God in the settling silence. Except of course, the silence may be unsettling. Because the wild God might begin to speak to us of how our need for certainty and security is holding us back.

This might be the call to live a more imaginative and colourful life. This is also a God revealed in the beauty and wildness of Nature, and in music, poetry and art. This is a God who is creative and imaginative, wildly feminine and tenderly masculine, wildly masculine and tenderly feminine. A God who, we dare to believe, can be discovered in our own lives and desires if we can only learn how to listen. As O’Donohue says:

Your concept of God should be feisty and imaginative and rich enough to incorporate all the hungers of your heart.

May we, in the Wellspring Community, be ready to welcome this God into our lives and our city. We have a piece of liturgy at the end of our Contemplative Service that asks God to free us up to be not human beings but “human becomings”, in the image of a dynamic and creative God. We pray that prayer again today.

I would love to live like a river flows, 

Carried by the surprise of its own unfolding. (John O'Donohue)

- Simon Bubb July 2017