Discerning the Divine: An Early Experience of God

NASA image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the Helix Nebula, NGC 7293, sometimes referred to as the “Eye of God” nebula. Credit: NASA, ESA, and C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University)

When I was a little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I was sitting in a grassy field enjoying a nice day. I don’t remember if it was spring, summer or early fall. I don’t remember where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. But I do remember the sensations. I remember the feel of the prickly grass on my skin, the warmth of the sun, and also a feeling of being at peace. I don’t have any sense of time passing or standing still. I know I was alone, but I have no sense of being lonely. I remember sitting on the ground, looking at the trees around me, looking up into the blue and white sky, and playing with the blades of grass. I would choose a blade, slide it very gently out of the earth, split open the bottom section with my thumb nail, and tickle my lips with the pointy end of the grass. It smelled fresh and clean. I think I sat there for quite some time, playing with each blade and then discarding it and choosing another one.

In an instant of unexpected awareness, I suddenly felt like I was somehow within the blade of grass. I actually felt like the blade of grass and I were part of each other, and then, the feeling expanded so that I knew — not thought, but actually KNEW — that this blade of grass and I were both distinct and the same, and that we were part of something much bigger, something universal and all encompassing. I knew the entire world was contained in this blade of grass. And I knew this instantaneously. There was no doubt, no questioning it. It was complete knowledge, complete certainty. I was just a little girl, so I had no context in which to place this experience, but I had no reason to doubt it either. I just felt included, embraced, clear and happy. That was it.

And then, I forgot. I forgot about that experience for a long time. Occasionally, I would have a sudden remembering of it. I don’t recall what would trigger the reminders. I would go months or even years not thinking about it at all, and then something would happen and the recollection of being one with the blade of grass would come to me and bring with it all those same feelings of being part of the universe. And then the memory would vanish again. It would come, and it would go. The older I got, the less frequently I experienced this moment of recollection. But when I did remember, I was very happy.

As time went on, I became exposed to more ideas — I was a big reader and very drawn to philosophy, religion and spiritual writings. I started to develop a little bit of a context for these moments, and realized at some point that Buddhists might call them moments of enlightenment. I studied Kabbalah, and found Jewish explanations for what I had experienced. I developed enough language and context to recognize these moments as divine, and to think of them as feeling God’s presence in my life. But this understanding was an intellectual one, not a spiritual one. Reading descriptions of these moments and thinking about them is totally different from being IN those moments. Ironically, the more I thought about them, the harder they were to experience. Again, borrowing from another tradition, I would say that thinking about or longing for these moments is really more like grasping, and that’s not when the moments come. It’s the opposite — they come when you least expect it.

So if this moment I had as a child was my first experience of divinity — at least in the way I define God, as a universal wholeness — and if thinking about these experiences kept them away instead of bringing them near, the question became, how do I get more of that? How can I feel God’s presence more than in a moment of happenstance?

For me, what felt like an experience of God wasn’t about the literal blade of grass — it was about the connection I felt with it. And that connection rose out of an experience of full engagement. It was being wrapped up in a moment, being truly present to something — even something as small as a blade of grass — that caused the experience of oneness and universality. So that’s the trick, then. All I have to do to feel God’s presence more is to be truly engaged in the world around me, and to do so without thinking about it. No problem.

For many people, being out in nature is their path to God. The majesty of our physical world reveals God’s presence in many ways. However, it turns out that despite my early experience of universal oneness, I’m not that much of an outdoors person. Sitting in the grass just makes me itchy and sneezy. But what I do really love is being fully present with people. Being fully engaged with others — family, friends, strangers — being fully attuned to another person so that I forget about time, space, or any other limitation or construct, is what brings me the joy and oneness I experienced so long ago as a child playing with a blade of grass. Looking into another person’s eyes and seeing their fears, dreams, sadness or joy — sharing my own truths and knowing another person is holding that space to keep me safe — these exchanges of small bits of our humanity are how we reveal the light of God. Complete and utter connectedness leads to the unwavering awareness that we are all individual and yet part of the same thing. That, to me, is Divine.

About Stefanie Levine Cohen
Stefanie Ruth Levine Cohen is a writer, instructor and full-time volunteer focused on issues involving birth, death, afterlife and the human condition. Her work explores moments of transition in people’s lives and focuses particularly on the intersection between the psychological and the spiritual. Stefanie’s signature workshop, “Writing from the Heart,” helps writers at all levels explore their personal truth through authenticity and creative expression. Stefanie has studied religion, spirituality, meditation and intuition with numerous teachers including Sylvia Boorstein, Joan Borysenko, Deepak Chopra, and James Van Praague. She earned bachelors and masters degrees in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from New York University School of Law. Stefanie’s writing has been published in a variety of literary journals and anthologies and can be viewed at www.stefanielevinecohen.com.

3 Comments

  1. Beautiful and thoughtful as always. Thank you, Stefanie!
    A quote I just came upon relatedly from Buber:

    When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly,
    God is the electricity that surges between them.

  2. I can remember being a child, lying in bed at night and feeling as though I were floating in air, just as part of the greater universe. I believe it was a similar experience to what is described here, except that I seemed to be able to experience that at will, whenever I chose, but always at night, while lying in bed. I have tried many times as an adult to experience that feeling again, but have never been successful. I think when you’re young and less affected by the problems we encounter every day as adults, it may be easier to feel at one with the universe.

  3. Edgar Mitchell was the 6th person to walk on the moon. He was a physicist who became a US astronaut. On his way back to earth, looking out the capsule window, he saw the small marble floating against the black background. He had an ahaaa moment, a noetic moment, understanding that everything is interconnected. Back on earth he founded the Institute Of Noetic Sciences (IONS), to re-connect science and spirituality. Frank Ostaseski writes in his book ‘The Five Invitations’, “We’ve all had moments when we discovered solutions to our problems without needing to “figure them out.” We’ve said things like, “All of a sudden it became clear,” or “The answer just came to me,” or “There was no question in my mind what I had to do.” … It is a quality of mind that senses what is needed without relying solely on rational processes.” This is Noetics. To me, aging is inherently noetic.

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