INTIMACY WITH GOD: And With Each Other

Paul Henry Carr, Ph.D.
First Church of Christ Congregational, Bedford, MA 01730
16 July 1995

"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God."
Psalm 42:2

Our souls thirst for intimate, loving relations with God and with each other. Yet the high divorce rate shows that marital intimacy is indeed difficult. A relationship with the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, overcomes these difficulties. We can then experience the richness and fullness of the love we all yearn for.

The FISHNET leadership conference I attended at the Ramada Conference Center in Andover (25 - 29 June 1995) offered insights from theologians, psychotherapists, and healers that I would like to share with you.

Francis and Judith MacNutt were the principle speakers. Francis graduated from Harvard and spent seven years studying to become a Roman Catholic Dominican and Priest. He was a homiletics professor. (He taught priests how to give sermons.) Judith is a licensed psychotherapist, who founded "A House of Prayer" in Israel, ministering to both Jews and Arabs. For eight years she directed "Christian Counseling Services" in Florida.

"Opposites Attract!" Francis is a biblically and theologically based scholar. Judith, the psychotherapist, is full of relational stories. Francis’ marriage to Judith in 1980 cost him his priesthood. Together they founded "Christian Healing Ministries, Inc." in Jacksonville, FLA. Local Episcopal and Roman Catholic bishops now serve on its ecumenical board. At the conference, Francis spoke on divine intimacy and Judith on how to be intimate with each other.


We read in Psalm 42:
"As a deer longs for a stream of cold water, so I long for you, O God."

Have you ever longed for the intimacy of being at-one with the creator of the universe? Have you ever wished for the serenity of his unconditional love that accepts you in spite of being unacceptable? As St. Augustine said:

"Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee."
Moses climbed the mountain and talked to God. He then came down to the people and told them what God had said.
In contrast to this distant God, Jesus modeled for us an intimate relation with his heavenly father.
At the end of a long day of ministry, he would withdraw to a quite place and pray to his heavenly father. He said:

"I am in the Father, and the Father in Me." (John 14:10)
The more accurate translation of the Lord’s Prayer he taught his disciples is

"Our Daddy who is in heaven..."

The original texts use the word "Abba," which is the word that little Israeli children still use for their "Daddies."
Before Jesus went home to his Father, he made this promise: "I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the spirit of truth." (John 14:16) This Holy Spirit is God’s eternal presence within us.

My first major encounter with the Holy Spirit was hearing German theologian Paul Tillich preach the sermon Spiritual Presence. A recurring theme was:

"The Spirit is a power within but not of us."

Tillich enumerated the many manifistations of the Spirit. He said:

"The Spirit can give you the strength to throw off false anxieties and to take upon yourself the anxiety which belongs to life itself."

This passage has lifted and healed my anxieties. In my time of grief, I found consolation in this:

"The Spirit is the power which enables us to reach our truest and greatest potential in spite of our fate and the ambiguities and uncertainties of the existential situation."

The Holy Spirit, the Father, and the Son share everything. We have the three personalities of the Trinity so that everyone may experience the divine in his or her own special way. Our neighbor Henry David Thoreau said:

"My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature, to know his lurking places, to atend all the oratorios, the operas, in nature."

Each individual experience of the Trinity is unique. Fox example, Francis MacNutt never had a vision, but he has a profound understanding and is open to others spiritual experiences. His wife, Judith, by contrast had a wonderful vision of Jesus appearing to her in a bright light from heaven and Jesus told her:

"I love you Judith, you are mine."

This happened in Jerusalem, after she had traveled through 30 countries searching for an experience of Jesus. She believed about Jesus, but she had never before experienced him.

I can relate to this, as I once had a vision of Jesus. It was the second Christmas after my wife, Karin, died. I had the flue and a fever. The fever would vanish for a few days and then return. One day, as I was lying with fever on my bed and feeling fearful for my life, I had a vision of Jesus looking very compassionately at me. He had a dark, swarthy complexion, and his loving, compassionate look was very healing.

Visions are are gift from God. Hopefully, we can all relate to the words of the hymn:

"We ask no dreams, no prophet ecstacies....,but take the dimness of our souls away."


Our growing relationship with the three-personalities- of-the-divine can strengthen us to move through the vulnerability of intimate relations with other humans.

Judith MacNutt, citing that fact that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce, said:

"With human relations, its just tough. One of our greatest challenges is to live togther in harmony.
The irony is that God has created us to be connected. Isolation and lonliness are problems in our society."

Karin used to quote the German expression:

"Mann is ein herden tier." which means:
"Humans are creatures of the herd."

Judith lamented the pattern of her own family of origin. Whenever a family disagreement arose, one would say:

"I am out of here."

After things "cooled off" one would return to the family with the problem still unresolved. Her advice during these difficult times is to "stay connected in some way."

Jesus taught us to "Love our neighbors as ourselves."

We can only love if we have developed and are in contact with our TRUE SELVES instead of our FALSE SELVES. The TRUE SELF is our essential self that always was, is, and will be. The TRUE SELF is awakened. The FALSE SELF seeks to control and manipulate. It "acts out" the "scripts" or agenda that others have made for us. These could be our parents or the three Ps of society: Power, Prestige, and Possessions. The FALSE SELF puts on a good show, dependent on outward appearances. The TRUE SELF is inwardardly motivated by the Trinity and is awakened in loving community. In a fulfilling relationship, we are loved and valued for our true selves.

However, the development of the true self does require boundaries. Without these, we become too enmeshed with the lives of others and can’t develop our own individuality. We need to balance individual solitude with relationships or community. As Goethe once said:

"A talent is developed in solitude, Character in the stream of life."

The development of our true and best self often requires that we have the courage to change. Permanent change is difficult. Judith cited the movie "What about Bob" with his taking "baby steps, baby steps" toward change. He kept saying "I can do it, I can do it." We need to break a big change in to "baby pieces" that can be accomplished day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month. The love of God and of Jesus can bring us closer to our TRUE SELVES.

When we get to know someone intimately, we also come in contact with their faults. We can strengthen the relationship by finding strength in those same weaknesses. Every strength has its negative or "flip side" and, conversely, every weakness has its "flip side" or strength.

Good communication is the key to intimacy. Feedback of what a person said has two purposes. One, it avoids miscommunication or misinterpretations. Second, it makes the speaker feel that you understand and care. Validation of the others feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree. This is common in communicating with our teen-agers. It is nevertheless important to "feed back" their feelings to validate to them that they have been heard. The source of fulfilling intimacy is a "listening heart." Judith feels most intimate with her husband, Francis, when they pray together.


Henri Nouwen summarizes intimacy:

"We come to see intimacy as a divine gift allowing us to transcend fearful distance as well as fearful closeness, and to experience a love before and beyond all human acceptance and rejection. This divine intimacy is neither possessive nor exclusive but opens our eyes to all people as brothers and sisters and frees our hands to work in solidarity with all of humanity."

Our intimate relations with God, Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit satisfy our longings for love and lead us to the fulfillment of our human intimacy.

We can transcend our human finitude through intimacy.


"As the deer longs for flowing streams
So long our souls for thee, O God.
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts;
All thy waves and thy billows are gone over us.

Our ‘Daddy’ who is in heaven, we thank you for your son Jesus, who showed us how to be intimate with you. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit, your power within us but not of us.

Help us to stay connected with our families even when the going gets rough. Guide us into the right balance betweeen soliltude and community, strengths and weaknesses. Strengthen us to grow and change for the good.

Search us, O God, and know our hearts and lead us in the everlasting way. May we actualize our TRUE SELVES in intimate relationships. Amen.

We will have an opportunity to deepen our intimacy with Jesus. Our area minister, Rev. Dr. Chuck Harper, will review the new book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time on Sunday, August 13th.