We can experience God in our deepest relationships because we are all created in God’s image. After reconciling with his long estranged brother, Jacob tells Esau that “to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33:10). I’ve also felt glimmers of God in moments of prayer, studying sacred texts, standing before nature, striving for social justice, in the midst of writing, and in great music. The encounter is fleeting — and startling. God sneaks up on us, as it were. The key is being open. “Where is God?” a Hassidic Rebbe asked. “Wherever you let God in.”
We experience the “infinitely incomprehensible holy mystery of God” in myriad ways: in loving relationships, in mindfulness and gratitude, in beholding beauty, in prayer and silence, in the quotidian demands of our lives, in ritual and liturgy, in moments of amazement, in communion with all living creatures, in study and contemplation, in acts of justice and peace, and in forgiving and being forgiven. The Divine Presence permeates our world, if only we have ears to hear and eyes to see. There exists, says Brazilian theologian Ivone Gebara, a “whole spirituality focused on the elemental things of life, in friendships, in the little joys of everyday”; these manifest the “dailiness of salvation.”*
The relationship between God and people is an intimate one. People are the vicegerent of God (2: 30) and represent His image on earth. The Qur’anic concept that God is closer to a human being than his/her jugular vein means to search God within oneself, not outside. The Qur’an refers to a primordial covenant of mutual relationship between God and humanity at the very creation of human being (7:172). Every person is imbued with moral failings as well as with consciousness of God from the start of his/her life (91:7, 8). The human heart is the center of attention in Islam. If the heart is clean and pure and filled with good deeds, a Muslim is conscious of the presence of God and experiences His presence within him/herself. A darker heart filled with bad deeds prevents a believer from such experience. The five pillars in Islam prepare a Muslim to cleanse his/her heart to experience God’s presence.