intimacy with God, intimacy with ultimate reality

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This is the 1st talk given by The Rev. Alice Cabotaje Roshi at the Holy Week 2022 retreat.

Reading: Holy Thursday, 14 April 2022 | Psalm 139:1-18

O God, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O God.
You hem me in – behind and before;
You have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where do I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God. How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.

Talk: Holy Thursday, 14 April 2022
Intimacy with God, Intimacy with Ultimate Reality
The Rev. Alice Cabotaje

Good evening. It feels good to see you all. Nona, deep gratitude for you being there onsite, blessing all of us with your presence. Thank you all for being here for this Holy Week retreat; to be in each other’s lives as we practice together in silence individually and together as a community. Tonight, and until Easter Sunday will be days of stillness and silence as we open ourselves to intimacy with God. Our retreat will be a time of further discovering intimacy with God through contemplation, and the practice of sitting and walking meditation.

In Psalm 139, verses 1-18, the psalmist reminds us that God knows us, knows us intimately – whether we know it or not, feel it or not, experience it or not. God’s presence in our lives is not dependent on who we are, where we’re at, or whether we like it or not. God’s presence simply IS and is constant.

While God knows us intimately, do we? All through the centuries, human beings have engaged in many ways to know God: through rituals, prayers, songs, poetry, dance, worship, the practice of meditation, service, community, and contemplation.

Those who seek to know God typically use either one of these two basic approaches:  One is Via Affirmativa or the Kataphatic orientation. This is an approach to God through positive assertion about God’s attributes: God is good, just, wise, loving, and so on.

With the Kataphatic approach, which has always been the most popular, the seeker experiences a deep realization of God through visions, feelings, imagery, words, and other sensate or symbolic forms of experience.

The other approach is Via Negativa or the Apophatic orientation, which is the way of God through negation. This is commonplace to all mysticism, whether Western or Eastern.

There are no predicates attach to God; no words may legitimately be used to describe the Divine. God is “not this, not that”. In stripping from our mind its delusions about God we prepare it for the truth, and in eliminating all that is not God, we begin to penetrate to the heart of the mystery. (John Ferguson – Encyclopedia of Mysticism

The Apophatic way emphasizes the truth of God that lies behind, beyond, or hidden within all sensory or intellectual representations. It means opening to the mystery of the divine presence within us which transcends the capacity of our faculties. Zen Buddhism is an Apophatic way.

One characteristic of the apophatic way is contemplation. The roots of contemplation are the Latin words cum (“with”) and templum (“temple”), which connote the sacredness of the experience. In its original meaning, contemplation is always a gift and cannot be achieved by any method or practice.

The author of The Cloud of Unknowing emphasizes that true contemplation is never manipulated. There is nothing one can do to “achieve” the experience, to force it to happen. All one can do is try not to interfere should it arise in as we practice in silence. The author says: “Simply try to be the wood, and let it be the carpenter.” (Belden Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, p 71).

In contemplation, in sitting and walking meditation, our awareness is open and not focused on one thing to the exclusion of others. In our practice we will simply nurture a simple willingness to be open to God’s movements, leadings, and invitations.


Our starting point will be stillness and silence. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” And contemplatives remind us: “God’s first language is silence.”

While in silence, we will listen.

To truly listen is to shed, as much as possible, all of our protective mechanisms, at least for the time of listening. To listen is to be willing to simply be present with what we hear without trying to figure it out or control it. To listen is to be radically receptive to what arises.

To do that, we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to be aware and accepting of our preconceptions, desires, and delusions – all that prevents us from listening. We also will have to be willing to put these preconceptions, desires, and delusions aside so that we can hear what is being said for what it is.

During our retreat, I would like to invite us to undergo what acoustic ecologists call ear cleaning.

This would involve opening our ears to every sound that arises: when we shift in our seats or cushions; when we stand up; when we walk; when we chew our food; when we drink; when a bird chirps; when the bell rings; when the clappers sound; when we turn a page of paper; when a car drives by; to all sounds made by others and other beings.

As we go through our retreat, I would like to invite those who are willing to experience this koan: “What is the SUBTLE sound of one hand?”

Some of you may have worked on the koan “What is the sound of one hand?” And I’d like to encourage us to go further and ask, “What is the subtle sound of one hand?”

As we go through our retreat, let our whole being be only listening…let our whole being be only hearing.