I have come to realize Christians can develop an intimate, rather than just a personal relationship with Jesus. Well-meaning evangelical Christians challenge us to have a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus but the word ‘personal’ is not found anywhere in the Bible. The question protestant Christians pose can make us feel as if we are missing something essential as Roman Catholics. As a former Baptist, I am particularly sensitive to the difference between the meaning of having a personal relationship with Jesus and the much more profound challenge Christ offers us to be intimate with Him in the Mystical Body of Christ. The Catholic answer to the evangelical’s question is simple; Jesus seeks intimacy.
What is it to know someone? What does it mean to be ‘personal’? The word ‘personal’ is a very relative term. It brings to mind things that are hidden, secret, things that we are comfortable with. It turns in on ourselves. Can I ask you a personal question? Do I have permission to enter your world and what is true for you? If something is personal to me, I get to define and choose according to my comfort zone. So, what we are able to perceive about each other is only what we choose to reveal. However, what does it mean to ‘know’ someone as God like He knows us?
God knows us Intimately
In Holy Scripture, we learn before we were born, God knew us as he knit us in our mother’s womb (Psalms 139: 13-16, and Jeremiah 1: 5). He knew us intimately before we knew Him.
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary encounters the angel Gabriel who tells her she will conceive. She asks how this is to be as she ‘knows’ not man. The Blessed Virgin understands to know a man is to be intimate, in the physical sense but trusts she can be intimate by an overshadowing by the Holy Spirit. No one ever born was ever more intimate with God than she was.
Mary did not have physical relations with Joseph, nevertheless, she was also intimate with Joseph because of her intimacy with God. Similarly, we cannot possibly achieve such intimacy with others ourselves if we don’t first have complete transparency with Christ first.
Christ prayed for us before He went out into the garden to enter into His Passion. He wanted us kept in the name the Father had given Him. No one knows the Father but the Son and all of us that have been given to Him. He knew us first and it is He who reveals Himself in all of His Divine nakedness to us, unashamedly. It is we who keep our souls clothed in things of the world and make of His creation something to be possessed instead of known. With this clear definition of being known in mind, I can honestly say I don’t want to ‘have’ a personal relationship with Christ. Instead, my greatest desire is to ‘know’ our Creator intimately.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and through her tears and sorrow of heart, she didn’t recognize the Lord. She mistook Him for the gardener. In a sense she was right. He was the gardener of her heart but until He called her by name, she didn’t know him. She calls Him teacher but He reveals something greater. He is now her brother along with the disciples and is going to His Father and their Father. He knows us but more and more He reveals Himself and allows us to know Him.
How Can We Know God More Intimately?
The two men on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Christ at first. As they walked, Jesus revealed more and more of Himself from scripture and then, in the breaking of the bread, their eyes were open. In the Bread, they saw Christ. Frances Caryll Houselander, calls this an ‘inscape’, Christ in His entirety, in every particle.
Practically speaking for myself I’m beginning to have eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to know and so be converted, daily, and to be healed. As a child, I was very much alone. Since I did not have any close friends, television became what I used as an escape for a long time.
Blocks to Intimacy
As a young adult, I turned in on myself. God knew my dignity but I did not, nor could I see the dignity of those around me. Constantly God revealed more and more of Himself to me. He stripped himself in order to apply swaddling bands to heal all of my self -inflicted wounds. He has brought me such a long way but I know there is much to be done. When I receive a compliment, there is still the thought, ‘but if you really knew what goes on inside my head and heart, what I struggle constantly with you would not compliment me’.
Attempting to know Christ more through prayer, I ponder how to put into practice what I’m learning. Intimacy involves nakedness, and yet there is so much in my soul which is still healing. I strive for communion with others and relationship with them. I desire to communicate and so used social media trying to connect with others but ended up losing myself online. I’ve tried to spend less time but inevitably the time increases. I’ve zoned out playing Solitaire on my notepad. Isn’t this just silly? The thing I want to use to communicate with others ends with Solitaire; a game played alone which shuts out God and my family.
When we have true intimacy with God the natural result reveals a true intimacy with our family and neighbors. We know each other because we know Jesus. Although I want true intimacy, I frequently return to what personally makes me comfortable. Activities which seem safe and harmless, even fun, may become destructive.
One day as my husband and I were driving out in the country we passed a sign on a church marquis that read, “Come worship with us. Fun for the whole family!” This was one of the ‘personal relationship’ denominations and they said if we would just worship with them in their personal way we would all have fun. But did Jesus ever say that? Did He say, pick up your cross and follow me and you will have fun for the whole family? Or did He say to Peter that he would deny Him three times, or one day someone would lead him where he didn’t want to go, but don’t worry, it will be fun for the whole family? Clearly not.
Rather, living a Christian life is one of generous sacrifice, not a picking and choosing of what makes us comfortable and entertained. In order to accomplish this Christ needs first to apply those swaddling bands and then one by one, as the wounds heal, strip them away until we are in all of our nakedness before Him, and unashamed. What a beautiful reality and yet I still struggle with all I wish to hold onto, using them like fig leaves to shamefully cover myself. He continuously calls to me to throw down the devices I cling to.
God Used Humor to Get Through To Me
In the midst of my struggle to grow in intimacy with God, I attended a retreat for mothers. I prayed my usual morning scripture and prayers and once again heard Him tell me to throw out the computer tablet. Brushing off His nudges, I left for the retreat. As Mass was celebrated I sat in the back pew and listened to the first reading from Exodus. I nearly burst out laughing. Moses came down from the mountain, saw the people in their revelry, and THREW DOWN THE TABLETS and broke them! Okay, okay God, I get it! I know what I need to do. With this image clearly in mind as Mass continued, I saw the priest elevate the precious body and blood, and I saw Jesus in all of His nakedness and I realized how I had been holding onto that silly tablet, in a very real sense, spiritually contracepting and keeping at bay the life-giving intimacy I so desired with Him and with all of my brothers and sisters.
lord, may we have eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to know you and so be converted and healed. May we have the courage to say we don’t want a personal relationship with our Lord but a deeply intimate one.