An Intimate Place of Communion

written by J. A. Hart
Where have I truly encountered God’s heart lately? It’s been some time, I thought, Why? What happened? I inquired further, taking that question to my heavenly Dad. His answer:

You’ve forgotten where we commune.

From The Story of Communion, part 1 of this Blog series; click here to read.
Communion is learned.

Walking with God is learned. Finding our intimate place of communion with God takes time because (and grace be over my words), God doesn’t walk with everyone the same. When we turn to him, our heavenly Dad grafts us into his family tree, but our stories look more like the crown than the trunk. They grow like branches, jutting in various directions across time. This is good because the particular is where we see God’s intimate hand in our hearts and lives. The adventure God called me on to find that intimate place of communion unfolded over the better part of six years. I wish I knew then what I know now; God often communes with me through story.

As a kid, I indulged in any fiction story I could find. Though, the word ‘indulge’ may not be strong enough; I was ravenous, tearing through story after story that I found a certain Quality within its pages. The Quality itself is difficult to define; it is much like a wild animal, untamed and elusive, popping up when you least expect it in books, movies, nature, hobbies, and the like. Some claim it is impossible to define with words.

But, I am confident everyone has experienced the Quality before. It’s the harrowing moment in a story when all seems lost to darkness, but a silver stream of light pierces the clouds. Or the conversation between a mentor and a mentee, where the words, “You are so much more” fill the young’s heart. Or the first sight of an unraveling, landscape after cresting a snow covered peak. Or the low crackle of a the fire near a gathering of intimate friends, laughing, and telling stories.

The Quality can be found in many places, and though it may be impossible to define in words, there is an attribute that signals it’s presence to our hearts. The German word ‘sehnsucht’ may come the closest: a longing for another world you belong to, but have never been.  

Longing: the attribute that gives the Quality’s presence away.  

I found the Quality through my favorite books as a boy. Though undefinable to my young heart, it’s effect was well known to me. I could tell by chapter two or three if a book held this unknown Quality within its pages because it awakened a longing within me for more.  Of what? I couldn’t say at the time; I knew where to find the Quality, knew what it was like, and even how to experience it, but I never stopped to look past it and ask the question, “Why?”

My favorite series as a boy was Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It earmarked all the ingredients I wanted in a fantasy, making it 100% escape-worthy. There were monsters, danger, a hidden identity, a girl to crush on, a story bigger than just going to school, AND the author was still alive, expanding the boundaries of it’s world. The end of my favorite characters was nowhere in sight; I could experience the Quality anew with each fresh book! So, you can imagine my surprise when my heavenly Father impressed on my heart, “I want you to stop reading them.”

Do you hear the crickets? My young heart was flabbergasted, “What! Why?” I stuck my finger in my ears and continued reading the series, but as I returned to the world of Greek gods, my heavenly Dad unveiled a pattern in my life. The longing I experienced in the presence of the Quality died away when I read the last page.

If I wasn’t reading about Percy, I was irritated and angry. I’d snap at my siblings, talk back to my parents, and worst of all, I noticed my horrible actions. As long as I escaped into the realities of  fiction, I experienced the Quality, and it ignited longing within me. For a moment, I’d find some semblance of peace, but like an addict who runs out of product, I’d finish my line and begin withdrawal. I couldn’t stop returning to that world, making life work just to get to the next hit- to soothe some aching piece of my soul.

I sold all twelve Percy Jackson books for $30 dollars at Half-Priced Books less than a month later.

That was the first step. Though I removed one product, there were plenty more to choose from. In the following years, I found the Quality in other stories, The Hunger Games, the Maze Runner Series, The 39 Clues, etc. Over and over, I experienced longing for a moment, but when I closed the book, the magic dissipated, leaving me empty. The authors promised some great hope on the horizon, but the sun never rose. I’d finish a book, close it’s cover, and whisper in my heart, “Et tu, Brute?”

So, I responded as any orphaned heart does. I threw fiction away, altogether. If no series gave me what I wanted; I’d go look for it elsewhere. Those were dark chapters in my story. But this wouldn’t be a story worth telling if my search ended in the dark. And really, if I look back over the last 22 years with the right lenses, I see the truth clear as fresh sunlight on a spring day.

I wasn’t the searcher; I was the one being sought.
So long as we imagine it is we who have to search for [commune with] God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about – He is looking for us [communing with us].

Simon Tugwell

In 2017 after resurfacing from another dark addiction (thats a story for another day), my brother stumbled across the Lord of the Rings audiobooks narrated by a gentleman named Phil Dragesh. He gave me a link, so I listened to them on my way to school each day. I enjoyed the LOTR, but until this point, I never considered them worth my time and attention. But as I listened to Frodo’s journey, I fell in love with Tolkien’s story. It certainly had the Quality in it, but something was different. Some layer of shadow seemed removed from the text. Tolkien’s work was somehow closer to the thing my heart truly desired. An image was coming into focus, and I longed to see and know the object. What stood at the heart of the Quality?

At the same time, the BibleProject appeared on the stage. (Though, Jon Collins and Tim Mackie weren’t new by any means; I was late to the game.) One day while perusing the YouVersion bible app, I stumbled across one of their videos; they hooked me. Over the next few months, I dove head first into the overarching beauty of the Biblical narrative, seeing for the first time why people always called it a story. Here, within its ancient pages, the blurry image I found in Tolkien’s story came into focus. I saw for the first time Who stood at the center of the Quality.

All the years I spent escaping to other worlds, I was searching for a story my heart longed to live. I thought the Quality was the object of my love, that the imaginary would give me wings like Icarus, but no matter what I did to avoid the sun, when I closed the book, the waxy wings melted away leaving me in an empty freefall.

When I encountered Tolkien and the BibleProject, that all changed. I was like a man living in black and white, experiencing color for the first time. Not that I’d NEVER seen color, but when it appeared in Percy Jackson, each hue was always faded.

You’ve forgotten where we commune.

When I received those words from God a few weeks ago (see The Story of Communion), he opened my heart to know the Source of color in my favorite stories. Why did I love those stories so much? It’s the presence of the Quality and the longing I feel. That was a start, but if my inquiring had stopped there, I’d have missed the beautiful truth, deeper still. I kept digging, Why? Why? Why? And with a whisper to my heart, my Father answered:

Because I commune with you there.

For the first time, I saw past the Quality and it’s longing, finding a string attached to the book that led through its pages to Hands on the other side. I looked up to see the face of Who and realized the most beautiful truth. For years, God communed with me. For years, he spoke to me through the stories I loved. The Quality stirred the deep waters of my heart, awakening a longing I needed to pursue, but my wounded heart missed the Hands beyond the book. My blind eyes only saw the book in my hands. This, I assumed, must be the source of life.

I never noticed the heart beyond the book that beckoned me forth. Now that my eyes truly saw, I could see nothing except for his fingerprints all over the pages of what I loved.

I read C. S. Lewis’ Cosmic Series and The Chronicles of Narnia, George Macdonald’s Princess and the Goblin duology and Phantasties, and Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga. All of which had the Quality. I experienced longing, but instead of closing each book and facing emptiness, I returned back to reality with something my heart desperately needed.

I received truth, goodness, and beauty, and when I looked up from the page, the scales fell from my eyes; I saw the same things in the world around me. I saw the goodness that existed in my daily life, the truth of who God was (and me as a result), and most of all, I witnessed the beauty of God’s heart everywhere.

Instead of escaping to lost realms, I received truth, goodness, and beauty from my Father and brought it back to reality. Instead of anger, I found love for others. Instead of abandonment, I found hope and presence. Instead of loneliness, I found God was working in my story and teaching me to trust and depend on his heart. He’d been communing with me like this for years; my heart just wasn’t open to receive.

Today, time and time again, my Father leads me back to this place of communion, and now that my heart recognizes His presence, when I stand face to face with the Quality and experience the longing, I try to find the string leading beyond the book to the hands and face of my Father, Father, reveal yourself here. His word in response is what my heart needs as I step into walking with him daily.

Calibration:
- Where do you think you’ve experienced the Quality in your life?
- What do you do when you feel the longing that comes from it?
- Do you return to the object where you encountered the Quality and longing? Or do you turn to your heavenly Dad and ask him to reveal his heart there?
- The next time the Quality stirs your heart, awakening longing within you, what would it look like to turn to your heavenly Dad instead of hoping in the book, hobby, or activity itself?
What are the things you love that bring your heart alive?

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