How to Know God

“I want to know the mind of God,” said Einstein.

Me, too. But, for much of my adult life, knowing God, knowing mind, or feeling connected to something grander than myself escaped me, eluded, even evaded me. Then, one day, something happened to me and I made a remarkable discovery. Meister Eckhart was right: “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me.”

So, I write this blog today assuming two things: 1) That God is; and 2) she is knowable. I call God, God but, you might prefer something else as in Being, Transcendence, the Eternal, the Mind, whatever…I have long suspicioned she has many names and aliases.

I’m hardly looking for widespread agreement on these suppositions. Some of you will agree and that’s fine. Others of you won’t and…well…that’s fine, too. If you don’t share these assumptions, you’ll not likely read anything else in this post you agree with either.

What follows in bold text are a few of those things I’ve learned about knowing God or living a Divine life, or being enlightened, or awakened, or, as the Christians love to say, “being saved.”To know God is simply the deep, inner feeling of inexplicable oneness with what is, a kind of wholeness and connectedness with life itself…with God.  I love the way Eckhart Tolle puts it:  “The word ‘enlightenment’ conjures up the idea of some superhuman accomplishment…it is really just your natural state of felt oneness with Being.”

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Knowing God is the purpose of human existence. It’s why you showed up. It took me half a lifetime of searching before I got this.  I had always thought, and had been taught, there was some “grand purpose” for which I appeared on planet earth…some job nobody else could do…would do…that I was supposed to do. So, I wasted a big chunk of my life looking for what it was.  Perhaps you’ve lived with similar expectations.  When I awakened from this illusion however, I realized there was nothing I was supposed to “do.”  The Divine had done it all. I had shown up to simply enjoy it–that is, to just be.

When you get this, you’re at peace.  The search is over.  The expectations are lifted. Life begins to be genuinely celebrated.  Then, you go on to “do” whatever you wish while enjoying who you are in the process. It is only after you stop looking for what it is that will define who you are…that one big moment or task or recognition that the ego in you craves and so deludes you into believing awaits you just around the “next” corner that you begin to live.

We show up for one reason and one reason only–to walk with God, as did Enoch of old (Gen. 5:24). This is an anthropomorphic way of describing what is the natural experience of deep connectedness with God.  If you read all of Genesis 5, you realize the writer is making the point that Enoch’s contemporaries were born, lived, begat, and died…but, they never got it.  That is, they never quite figured out the simplest, yet the most profound truth about life. It’s all about knowing the Divine, being one with oneself and with what is.

There is something else.  Knowing God takes no effort whatsoever. Effort is the stuff of religion.  Virtually all of them, too. While most religions seem to start out right – that is, with the purpose of helping people know and feel oneness with themselves…with life itself…with the Divine – it isn’t long before they turn this grant from God into some kind of loan that must be repaid with obligations, offerings, obedience, and so forth.

So, with those who’ve left religion for reasons associated with abuse (and those may number in the millions), the real reason most people have left organized religion (but have not left their spiritual longings), is because they’re frankly tired of trying to know a God their religion says requires still more sacrifices…still more duties…still more doctrines to debate over…still more rules to keep…lifestyles to conform to…and so on.

My advice is: don’t make knowing God into a problem…into a performance…into some kind of duty or ritual.  Know that you know God already.  Knowing God is nothing more than the progressive realization of Presence itself, which is why Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). You could not get any closer to God than you are now. So, know that every thought of God, every impulse is grace itself…IS God.

Give your attention to the inclination you feel to know God. I love what Thomas Merton said, “As soon as people are disposed to being alone with God, they are…no matter where they are:  in the monastery, in the city, in the country…in the woods. At the moment it seems they are somewhere in the middle of their journey, they have actually arrived at the destination already.”

Give your attention to the questions you have about God, too…even the doubts. See where that takes you. Your religion might tell you that you should accept the things you’ve doubted or questioned on the basis of faith alone. But, that’s nonsense.  God does not ask you to ignore your questions or disregard your doubts. Faith does not preclude doubt.  Real faith is learning to live in ambiguity…with paradox…with questions for which there may be no answer.

Your questions might frighten the faithful. But, I assure you that your questions are welcomed by God.  She created you with a mind.  Use it.  As I say in The Enoch Factor, “Doubt is no more disbelief than questions are compromise.” The most faithful followers of any faith have been those whose minds doubted, questioned, and so contemplated the inexplicable mysteries of life.

Meditate more often than you medicate.  It is so unfortunate in our western world but, as Christiane Northup has said, “The only acceptable form of western meditation is hospitalization.” I suppose it is conceivable that life would give you whatever you need–even a hospital bed–to help you look within–which is, of course, the only place where you could ever really find yourself or experience the Divine presence. The rabbis say, “God has but one synagogue…the human heart.”

Although I am a devoted follower of Christ, I regularly practice eastern meditative disciplines.  There is much Christians could learn from the spiritual traditions of the east. Ignore those Christian leaders who warn you against meditative practices or yoga or whatever. They’re only admitting they live more from a place of fear and suspicion than they live by faith. For me, and many other practitioners of the Christian tradition, I have the highest regard for those spiritual traditions that, while different from mine in many ways, have enriched my journey nonetheless.  In fact, the more I learn from other traditions the more devoted I am to my own and the more I realize the similarities in all of them.

While Benedictine monks in the Christian tradition know this, most other Christians do not. But, Jesus himself regularly practiced meditation just as his eastern counterparts. What do you think he was doing for forty days and nights as he wandered in the wilderness? (Lk 4:1-13).  On a hunting expedition?  His temptations grew out of his inner impulses.  And, to deal with them, he had to go within in order to find his way out.

You will have to do the same.  Learn to meditate.  To meditate will mediate God’s presence faster than anything I know. Lao Tzu said, “Where there is silence, one finds the anchor to the universe.”

Know that every experience carries within it an expression of the Divine presence.  I am not suggesting that everything you might encounter in life is sent by God.  But, I am saying that everything that happens in life can be the occasion for connecting deeply with the Divine. When I experienced a profound shift in my spiritual life a few years ago, I did so with the realization that life has a way of unfolding as a series of synchronous events that, seemingly coincidental or even random, are actually conspiring together to bring you into union with the Divine. This understanding has been transforming my reaction to and interaction with every experience of life–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Make it your daily spiritual practice to bring your awareness into the present moment.  When you are here (and not somewhere else in the mind), you will be at peace…in presence. If you haven’t discovered this already, you will likely learn that one of the greatest challenges to living with a felt sense of oneness to God is disciplining the mind and so training it to the “here and now.”

To be in union with God may take no effort but to know that union and so enjoy its blissful benefits…well…that will likely take a lifetime.  Which is why it’s important to get started now and why the sixteenth century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence, called this “practicing the presence of God.” Think of this in the way Ernest Hemingway said to think of yourself: “As an apprentice in a craft where you could never become a master.”

Again, don’t make a problem of this.  Just know that knowing God unfolds naturally as you train yourself to give attention to every thought, impulse, or inclination you feel to know God. Recognize the thoughts.  Acknowledge the inclinations, however faint they may be.  It is here you will find peace, enter presence, and so know God.

The ancient sages said that Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:24).

If he did, so may you.

6 thoughts on “How to Know God”

  1. Beautiful post! I wish I could find a church that is about serving much more than dogma.

    1. Thank you Carmen for reading and responding to the post. I wish I could help you find a church. If you’d like to send me a private email at [email protected] and tell me what city you live in, I might be able to make a recommendation. Can’t guarantee that but I will try. Blessings on the journey. Know that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be at this time in your life. God will direct your path too. Believe this. It is true.

  2. Dear Dr. McSwain,
    As I sit here this morning reflecting on my morning meditation reading from Mark Nepo, I am at awe how everything I reflect on brings me back to you and your book “The Enoch Factor”. I am the typical cookie cutter white, middle class, Christian, American of today….most importantly I can say now” I was” and now have been awakened and on my way to receiving the gift that Enoch and yourself have been given.
    My husband, came home one evening from work, (we both work in health care), with your recent book. I began reading it that night and finished it within the next three days!!!!! I have to say it has been the most influential, spiritually awakening and changing moment in my 48 years. I am reading it again for the second time. This time reflecting more, putting more into practice and knowing that as the saying goes “It’s the journey not the destination”. I feel like I have found someone who has written a book that defines and shows the path to the “spiritual awakening” that I have been searching for, thought I found, but just didn’t bring me a sense of inner peace, or as Oprah would say, that “Awe moment” until now.
    My husband and I have had many talks about our frustrations within the organized Christian community. I can say now that my believe is “A God realized-life”. I have read from a many of your quoted authors in your book, and your book has shown me what I have felt all along but unable to define and more importantly to see!
    To share my own experience of how we are all so different and unique but are all connected to God (love), as a critical care nurse I have witnessed, experienced and have to say now have been honored to be a part of many patients physical deaths from this earth. With that said, having been there to see each at their most humbled moment on this earth (besides our birth), all the outer layers peeled away like an onion, there in that moment in front of me not knowing their pasts, their external identities including their religious practices was a sense of one, peace. I could never understand (but I always knew and now “Get It”) how someone who had a different belief system or life style could be connected to the God I was raised to believe in.
    So I finish this message to you by saying thank you Dr. McSwain for your perseverance, your courage to seek and break the mold. and as the saying goes. I hope I have the pleasure of someday meeting you. Your book has already been and will be that birthday, graduation and so on gift from me. Oh and one more….Hey, you have to read this book! category.


  3. Jeremiah 23:28-32
    New King James Version (NKJV)
    28 “The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream;
    And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully.
    What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the Lord.
    29 “Is not My word like a fire?” says the Lord,
    “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
    30 “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who steal My words every one from his neighbor. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the Lord, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the Lord, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the Lord.

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