This Deep Need for Presence

This Deep Need for Presence

This Deep Need for Presence
Psalm 42
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

What is it?
What is going on in this Psalm:
This longing for God, this deep need for the Presence
of God as my divine lover?
This inspires me!
This seems like what I would
ultimately desire for my own reality:
to be in a relationship with God in which
God is so real to me, so much a part of me
that any separation stings like a wasp,
wrenches like a sprain, aches like a broken heart.
A God so real that a touch seems like
a caught breath, a tender embrace,
laughter and joy and hope
all rolled up into one beat of my heart.
Who is this God of whom
this Psalmist writes?
I would like to know this God
deeper and deeper,
with more and more intimacy.
It seems that my heart longs for this wanting,
yearns for this knowing,
seeks for this loveliness and the tenderness of the
God known by this Psalmist.
The God who knows this Psalmist!
But I know, though I now yearn,
I have known all this before,
because I know I can only have the yearning,
if I have had the experience, and I have…

# # #

At the heart of mystical traditions is a longing for a deep spiritual connection to the divine being. This longing is of a nature that is not just religious or even contained in one faith tradition. There are similarities in them all. Many seem of a romantic or even of an erotic nature, desiring what is seen as some being at the heart of the universe to touch the seeker in a way that is life-changing and intimate.

Mystical prayer often times seem like poetry. Mysticism should not be confused with theology. Theology systematically tries to understand the nature of God and to express that understanding in quasi scientific or legal terminology. Spiritual and mystical vocabularies are of a passionate nature. Theological compositions read like textbooks; spiritual and mystical writings read like love letters.

Theology is based on a desire to know about, talk about, create systems of thought about, the divine being. Theology is intellectual. It sometimes seems a little cold and bloodless and only exciting to other theologians. Theology is by its very nature, philosophy.

Mysticism is of the heart. It is spirituality in action, and acting out the seeker’s dreams of the divine. I am using the term, divine, or divine being because there is much of mysticism that would not say the word, God, and mean the same thing as what someone else might mean by that term.

Mysticism, mystery, secret, unknown, hidden, unrevealed, esoteric, occult, symbolic, covert, arcane, ethereal, animating principal, essence, metaphysical are all words having to do with the seeking of a closer, more meaningful experience of that which is divine. But it is not so much about words, as it is about the longing, the heart’s need for more of what is considered the ultimate condition of love itself. This ultimate condition of love can be sought in Nature, the Cosmos, Heaven, Jesus, God, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, The Earth, and the recesses of our own hearts.

Again the one thing that stands out for me as far as true mysticism is concerned is the confluence of all spiritual paths into the one river of life. In the seeking for the one who dwells at the center of all that is, we are led into the same stream and into the same sacred pool of divine consciousness.

Some examples of Mystical/Spiritual writing follow:

Beseeching the breath of the divine one,
His life-giving breath,
His breath of old age,
His breath of waters,
His breath of seeds,
His breath of riches,
His breath of fecundity,
His breath of power,
His breath of all good fortune,
Asking for his breath
And into my warm body drawing his breath,
I add your breath
That happily you may always live. (Zuni Chant from Earth Prayers)



There is a sleepy whiteness
Of snug, well-spun cocoons;
A placid, graceful whiteness
Of sails on safe lagoons;
A raging, billowy whiteness
Of surf that dashes high;
An upward-lifting whiteness
Of spires against the sky
That point for seeking sailors
The way through surf to shore,
That say to souls in chrysalis,
“Arise, and sleep no more!” (The Glory of God, Georgia Harkness)


Perform all thy actions with mind concentrated on the Divine, renouncing attachment and
looking upon success and failure with an equal eye. Spirituality implies equanimity.

When thy reason has crossed the entanglements of illusion, then shalt thou become
indifferent both to the philosophies thou hast heard and to those thou mayest yet hear.

When the intellect, bewildered by the multiplicity of holy scripts, stands unperturbed in
blissful contemplation of the Infinite, then hast thou attained Spirituality.

Therefore, surrendering thy actions unto Me, thy thoughts concentrated on the Absolute,
free from selfishness and without anticipation of reward, with mind devoid of excitement,
begin thou to fight.

Those who always act in accordance with My precepts, firm in faith and without cavilling,
they too are freed from the bondage of action.

But they who ridicule My word and do not keep it, are ignorant, devoid of wisdom and
blind. They seek but their own destruction.

Even the wise man acts in character with his nature; indeed, all creatures act according to
their natures. What is the use of compulsion then?

The love and hate which are aroused by the objects of sense arise from Nature; do not
yield to them. They only obstruct the path. (From The Bhagavad Gita)


[The Soul] is to be reached by him who, with the nature of the lover, is a born philosopher, suffering the pangs of love for beauty, yet not held by material loveliness, but rather feeing from that to things whose beauty in of the soul… (Plotinus)


The high things of God are foolishness and madness to man… Hence the wise men of God and the wise men of the world are foolish in the eyes of each other, for to the one group, the wisdom and knowledge of God is imperceivable, and to the other, the knowledge of the world is imperceivable. Wherefore the knowledge of the world is ignorance to the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of God is ignorance to the knowledge of the world. (St. John of the Cross)


The sum and substance of the whole matter is that a man must love God, must be restless for him. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God with form or God without form. You may or may not believe that God incarnates Himself as man. But you will realize Him if you have that yearning. Then He Himself will let you know what He is like. If you must be mad, why should you be mad for living things of the world? If you must be mad, be mad for God alone. (Ramakrishna)


God and the Godhead are as different from each other as heaven and earth …Creatures speak of God – but why do they not speak of the Godhead? Because there is only unity in the Godhead and there is nothing to talk about. God acts. The Godhead does not. …The difference between God and the Godhead is the difference between action and non-action… (Meister Eckhart)


The river and the waves are the same;
where is the difference between the
wave and the water?
When it rises it is water; when it falls it
is water. Tell me, where is there any
…So many bodies, so many opinions! But
my Beloved, though invisible, is in all
these bodies.
There is no life at all without the Beloved;
the Self lives as each and every one.
What, then, O friend, are you searching
for like a fool?
The object of your quest is within you, as
the oil is in the sesame seed.
As the pupil is in the eye, so is the Lord
in the body; the deluded do not know
Him, and search for Him without. (Kabir, 16th Century)


The blessing and the challenge to all of this is that unless you are going to adhere to a very specialized form of fundamentalism, no matter what path you choose to follow, you cannot go wrong. God is God. All life is held by a loving God. God is good. God is love. God is the unifying center of all that is diverse in the universe. God is… We are… And we are loved by the one whom we seek.

In a mystical framework, there is a loneliness inherent in the human condition. Both the light and the dark exist within our own selves, and it is up to us how we choose. Misplaced, and looking into the darkness, we can get on the wrong path and let the loneliness lead us to an existence of destruction. If we choose to look for the light, that loneliness can lead us into the deepest of loves—the love of God.

# # #

Psalm 42 — New Revised Standard Version

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.



  1. Ah yes, the heart of the matter. As Karl Rahner said of the Roman Catholic church of the future “it will be mystical or it will not be at all.” And certainly writers like Evelyn Underhill have covered the subject well. But as valuable as the witness of medieval western Christians is, the fact that they are most often saints safely in the past seems to imply this experience is not for ordinary contemporary people. Add the traditional Protestant suspicion that mysticism is dangerous emotionally driven fantasy or an attempt to escape from the need for social justice in the world here and now.

    Yet the hunger remains. I’ve seen this repeatedly at spiritual conferences, including those specifically religious. People whose educations and cultural affiliations have given them no way to express something they lack. With the exception of poets, musicians, and artists– whose connection to inspiration gives them a feeling for the mystical side. Which is deeply appreciated by the rest of us as an expression of that silent something.

    As is typical for the Pacific Northwest, I was raised without religion. When I was in high school, I took Russian. Thus on Sunday, April 25, 1965, I was thinking about the day as Russian Orthodox “Easter.” A short version of what happened next: my room filled with pearlescent light, combined with an intense presence of love and joy. I could see that light emerging from the cells of my body and from the molecular level of the wood of my nightstand. I was taken above the city of Seattle; I knew the people below were held in that same field. I remember the Atlantic ocean, viewing creatures from microscopic plankton to whales, then the plains of the Serengeti of Africa, everything surrounded by that love. Then past our solar system, past galaxies, out to what appeared to be the end of the universe where it went dark. Because even light cannot fully contain the Infinite Divine.

    When I’ve spoken of this experience, or others I’ve had, often people react by asking HOW do you get there? If the mystical were solely bestowed by a deity, then there is nothing one can do but wait passively. For the last 15 years, I’ve worked on that question. I researched the entire arc of western esoteric traditions, including Hermeticism, alchemy, magick, astrology, etc. and their origins in Egypt and to a certain extent, Mesopotamia. The western way is the way of the individual soul seeking relationship to the divine. It is the compliment to the eastern way of unity with the divine or of cessation altogether.

    In my opinion, it IS possible to find the mystical. Sure, I was given the initial experience. But I had to find my own way back. These last two years here in the Bay area I used as a sort of sabbatical to finish my research and outline the basics. To my surprise, this strengthened my rather tentative Christian identity. What I found can be mapped onto a version of Christian Kabbalah. Useful for exploring spiritual realms without the grave risk of getting lost in unfamiliar territory. Of course it is best to bear in mind the sematicist Alfred Korzybski’s adage– the map is not the territory. We all interpret our experiences through the limits of physical senses, brain synapses, mental preferences, and cultural habits.

    So then boundaries are somewhat artificial. But they are guides toward the unbounded. Traditional Jewish Kabbalah speaks of the 4 worlds, esoteric disciplines like the Golden Dawn added Tarot paths. It’s complex, but there are some useful basics. For example, I hold that there are 5 worlds. Soma, the physical realm; instinct, nature mysticism. Psyche; the Greek term includes soul, what we now think of as psychological, and a life energy/force. Then Noetic– the realm of mind, Teilhard’s noosphere; a kind of collective etheric information ala the scientist Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields. The next is my own new interpretion– Cosmic. I don’t mean this the way that Matthew Fox does by Cosmic Christ, which is my opinion more of a synonym for planet eco-spirituality. I think it is an emerging consciousness, awareness of life and all of creation on a truly universal scale. I believe Teilhard was getting at this. The last is Pneuma, the spiritual sensu strictu, the realm of the Infinite Divine.

    BTW, Rev. Doc Hilary, I’m going back to Seattle in two weeks. Although I’ll return now and then to continue the con–spiring with my brilliant mystic Jesuit friend. I’ll let you know when I get this project finished (writing, illustrations.) I figure about a year. Tentative title: Spiritual Evolution and Western Gnosis. A sort of postmodern Christian apologetic.

    • I’d like to be in contact with you. I have had many mystical experiences such as you described. I am currently writing them out. i would be Interested in sharing manuscripts with you when you are done with yours. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a circle of mystics. i am so needing contact with others who validate my experiences through their own. Wishing you well- Laura

    • Rafi, your comments are great and appreciated, thanks. There is this thing happening that I have observed: there are always openings, but they are balanced by closings. As some minds open and seek, while other minds close and turn off. Have good and safe travels–geographic and cosmic…

  2. Hilary- I really enjoyed this one. Longing is truly the vehicle to God. Most recently been finding that longing renewed through the Book of Splendor, The Zohar. Check out :) L

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