This book opens our dulled eyes to the fact that God is not a distant, abstract theory but a proximate, live presence, surrounding us and waiting for us to open ourselves to Him. We have reduced God to an insipid theory that has little or no effect on us. People, especially the young, are looking for God but are disillusioned by the God presented to them by those who call themselves religious. God is not abstract, it is we who have made him appear so.
The traditional doctrine, we believe in, is fully true in itself, but of not much use unless we make it truly our own in feeling and living, in faith and enthusiasm and in our direct experience. The communication of our faith and belief springs forth from what we feel. If our expression is cold, we are actually saying that our feeling is minimal. If this is the case with us, then, we are in danger of presenting Christianity as something drab and redundant and not the “Good News” that it really is. The Gospel is “Good News”, and so, if it is not news, it is nothing. The Gospel should first and foremost be Good News to us and only when it has become Good News for us, can we share it as Good News to others.
The author diagnoses the reason for the above mentioned malaise to be a loss of contact: loss of the closeness, the experience, the presence. We only know by hearsay. We talk only by heart. We quote what was quoted by those whom it also had been quoted to. We end up with a mere tradition handed in our lap. It hardly affects us. The more distant we are from the original facts the more we speak and the less we feel. We grow more eloquent as we have less and less to say. And so we may end up losing track.
The early Christians were ablaze with the experience of God. The reception of the Holy Spirit was a tangible, shaking, transforming and unforgettable experience. Their experience became the basis of their faith. The testimony and lives of others attracted their attention but did not define their faith. Their personal experience was the focal point of their Christian life. For us the coming of the Spirit is as abstract a fact as our being children of God. It all remains in the air for us.
The Church’s teachings are listened to with respect, and ignored with indifference. The Gospel is far from being a practical rule of conduct for persons or institutions. We can say that the Gospel has been preached in the whole world; but we cannot say that it has been accepted, much less implemented. Jesus is universally known and venerated in his person, but is not followed in his doctrine.
The author contends that we do not come to the experience of God because we do not expect it. We do not open ourselves to his tangible and sensible presence because we believe it is not for us. We do not receive extraordinary gifts in prayer precisely because we call them extraordinary and the very word from the start places us, who are ordinary Christians, outside the scope of what we call extraordinary graces. We do not feel God in his love and his presence because we have been taught that, that is only for mystics, and not for us who are unworthy of such privileges. We do not receive the Holy Spirit in tangible graces and visible gifts because we believe that for us it is only to receive him through faith and darkness in baptism and sacraments. We do not take wing because we believe we have no wings. And we go on plodding our way pedestrian fashion along the dusty road.
The author expresses his hope that the Church will regain her original and traditional calling to foster, expect and facilitate the personal and direct experience of God for all Christians. If she does not, he foresees a loss of credibility, closeness and relevance.
The message of the book is evident and relevant. The author appears to have taken the phenomenological standpoint. He is addressing a situation he sees around him. The pastoral overtone of the book is manifest throughout. The language used is simple and straightforward. The brevity of the chapters helps focus the message and simplify gleaning it out. The book begs introspection and challenges us to make the transition from second-hand to first-hand faith. We cannot afford to go on living a Christian life that is devoid of personal experience, for our experience is the source of our proclamation.