“Putting language on the experience of that of God within us, I think, is a risky business,” says Christopher Sammond. “Any language is inadequate, and language that I might use will not speak to somebody else.” Nevertheless, we have to try!
“There’s a place where I touch God, and God touches me,” Christopher explains—and, he tells us, one of the most powerful times he felt that touch was during a retreat at Pendle Hill, when Spirit had a message he wasn’t prepared to accept at first.
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Etty Hillesum, who was a Jewish woman who lived during the Holocaust and then died in the camps, wrote some incredible pieces in her diary before she died. And one of them is talking about how she didn’t blame God for their situation and that all she felt that she could do was to take care of that piece of God in her and not worry about tomorrow, but to protect that that tender place in her. And I think there’s some real wisdom in that that need for each of us to tend with skill that place in us where we touch God, and God touches us.
My name is Christopher Sammond. My pronouns are he/him/his. I live in upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes area, and I worship at Poplar Ridge Friends meeting. Putting language on the experience of that of God within us, I think, is a risky business. Any language is inadequate and language that I might use will not speak to somebody else.
The way I experience it and the way I understand it is there’s the place within me in the deepest well of my heart, there’s a place where I touch God and God touches me and it’s like a connection point. You know, Quakers are not the only ones to have had this be part of their experience, although for us it really is foundational. George Fox, one of the founders of Quakerism, his initial experience of hearing that there is one that can speak to your condition.
Other mystical traditions also have that and use different language. One of my favorites is from the Upanishads, it’s just a short poem, “Two birds sit on a branch. One eats the fruit, the other watches.” In our lives, we have the very good and necessary part of ourselves that motors through life, that has a family, that has a job, that has relationships and experiences. That’s the bird that eats the fruit and the one that watches would be, what I would name, the divine within.
It’d be hard for me to name the first time I experienced something that felt like the divine, either in Quaker worship or in my life, because there were lots of little nudges and smaller experiences along the way that kept me coming back for more. And yet I can say that by the time I’d been attending friends for five years and went on a very powerful leading to go to Pendle Hill, I still didn’t have a sense of an ongoing connection with the Living Divine. And I could see ‘that’ in some of the other residents at Pendle Hill. I could see they had something I wanted, but I didn’t even know what it was. But I could tell that they had something that I was after.
That was a hard time for me. We had daily worship and after a while, what I started hearing every day in worship was you need to be out of that relationship. And it was the best relationship I’d ever had. And so I felt like “Can we turn the dial and get another living God to speak to me here?”
And so I wrestled with that for weeks. And then one day in worship, I was felt a leading to speak the 23rd song. And I got as far as the line “…And I will fear not for thou art with me…” when the reality of that hit me with such force that it was like my whole world split open. And I dissolved in a puddle of tears with the full sense that what I’d been seeking so ardently had always been with me and always been available. I just didn’t know how to feel it, recognize it, connect with it.
So that was a a foundational moment for me where it wasn’t just a little leading or a hearing or giving some vocal ministry that felt like it had some power to it. It was really experiencing that, what we talk about in Friends, as everyone has that of God within them. Experiencing that presence in a full and powerful way.
- How Would you describe the Inner Divine??
- What is your experience With the Inner Divine?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.