We may first experience the desire for God when overwhelmed by feelings of being alone in the universe. I encounter many of my fellow humans suffering from loneliness and isolation, a state the Apostle Paul compared to the feeling of being orphaned. He described the spiritual guidance we receive as coming from the Spirit of Adoption. "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'" (Romans 8:12-17) The Christian gospel was unique in that it personalized the Spirit or God as a “Father.”
Long before the Christian era, Jewish prophets of the “Old Testament” portrayed the Spirit as a merciful guide, “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:20-21)
If in discovering God we experience being comforted or led, it is also the result of the ministry of the Spirit of Truth which John introduced in the fourth gospel of the “New Testament” Bible, also described as the Comforter (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7). Jesus told them, “I will not leave you as orphans,” (John 14:18) and this is perhaps where the Apostle Paul got his idea.
Many world religions teach that the comfort and guidance of a spiritual agency is available to believers. Even secularists have their concept, “the force be with you.” The “Gita” of Hindu tradition teaches that spiritual comfort is offered through the Supreme Lord’s (Krishna’s) mercy.
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart … and is directing the wanderings of all living entities.” (Bhagavad-Gita 18:61)
“To show them compassion, I, dwelling in their hearts with the shining lamp of knowledge dispel the darkness born of ignorance. In their hearts I will place this mercy.” (Bhagavad-gītā 10.11)
“In all activities, just depend upon me and work always under my protection … If you become conscious of me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditional life by my grace.” (Bhagavad-gita 18:57-58)
The feeling of being comforted may be the initial spiritual experience that leads some seekers to accept God as a friend and a guide.
However, just because one has found God through a sacred text or spiritual self-help book, and absorbed the information, does not mean he or she won’t still experience emotions that can overwhelm one, even in situations where there are solutions. Exhaustion and hopelessness, a profound sense of sin and unworthiness, or the paranoia of not being loved may continue to dog our footsteps. By understanding the feelings of loneliness and hopelessness in ourselves, we can recognize the same in friends and loved ones, knowing there are times we cannot seem to derive comfort in the message of God’s love.
One of our famous local SF Bay Area characters, Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest) once talked with the Paris Review about people who struggle in the valley of the shadow of death. He described the stratagem of self-medicating to deal with pain.
“It’s the same old wilderness, just no longer up on that hill or around that bend or in the gully. It’s the fact that there is no more hill or gully, that the hollow is there and you’ve got to explore the hollow with faith. If you don’t have faith that there is something down there, pretty soon when you’re in the hollow, you begin to get scared and start shaking. That’s when you stop taking acid and start taking coke and drinking booze and start trying to fill the hollow with depressants and Valium.” http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1830/the-art-of-fiction-no-136-...
Kesey went on to say in this interview: “Real warriors like William Burroughs or Leonard Cohen or Wallace Stevens examine the hollow as well as anybody; they get in there, look far into the dark, and yet come out with poetry.” The beauty of the arts such as poetry or music can connect us to a spiritual reality beyond the drudgeries of daily life in ways that a holy scripture cannot do.
I recently read Darkness Visible by Styron, a book I resisted reading for years (it came out in 1990). Styron wrote that “self-hatred … a failure of self esteem and… a feeling of worthlessness,” were key causes of his depression. His experience of depression is illuminating for someone like myself who suffers comparatively mild symptoms when evaluated next to his, though I was still able to recognize the features he described so vividly. Styron’s depression was so severe he sought a cure through a hospitalization that lasted about seven weeks.
Unfortunately, I think, his book shows no experience of, or recognition of the Spirit of Truth, Krishna’s spirit of mercy, or any other spiritual assistance for that matter. He mentions religion only once, and then it is to condemn the ineffectiveness of Christian platitudes. I concluded that his complete indifference to the influence of spiritual life was a reason he suffered depression to such an extreme. However there is more to say on the unconscious experiences leading to his rescue that is beyond the range of this article. I came away from his book with a stronger faith in keeping my own mind centered on the Spirit, or God. http://www.examiner.com/article/darkness-visible-a-brief-study
Jesus taught his followers, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) “I have come that my brethren in the flesh may have joy, gladness, and life more abundantly.” (John 10:10, and 15:11)
With his gift of the Spirit of Truth to planet Earth, this access to joy obtained, the door was opened. The universality of his teaching is that we can in our meditation and prayers ask for guidance and comfort and confidently expect to receive it. Anchoring one’s self in the love, comfort and guidance of the Spirit helps me recharge, restore, regain balance, and continue to make progress in life.