I call it the Grammar of God. There are three sacred prepositions that in a lifetime of aspiring to live a faith journey or spiritual path have been a major source for me of soul sustenance and courage through light and shadow.
The prepositions are with, for, and in. They are only three small words, but together they add up to an empowerment much stronger than any supplement or other external aid.
One of the basic affirmations of all major religions, except perhaps for a strict form of Buddhism, is that God, the supreme mind and source of the cosmos, is with us. Holy books repeatedly bear witness to this reality. The Jewish and Christian scriptures, for example, remind us of this on almost every page. I think often of the story of God's challenge to a timid, fearful Joshua to become the successor to Moses in leading the Children of Israel into the promised land. He was told: “Be strong and of a good courage. Have I not commanded thee? Fear not, neither be thou dismayed; for I the Lord your God will go with you whithersoever thou goest.”
In the beloved words of the 23rd Psalm the promise is that even when we walk “through the valley of the shadow of death we can conquer fear because “Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff comfort me” - i.e. bring me divine presence and courage. These and dozens of passages like them can become our internal mantras in times of stress. God is with us as we live in trust.
Secondly, we need constant reminding that God is also for us. He so to speak is “on our side” whatever we encounter –especially when we go through trying spiritual and emotional dry spells or crises. Perhaps one of my most favorite chapters in all the writings of St. Paul is Romans c.8, where he asks rhetorically: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He then goes on in very moving, soaring words to say that nothing in all of the entire created order can ever “separate us from the love of God” as expressed in the Jesus story.
The whole underlying message of the Bible is that God acts moment by moment on our behalf. In Her/Him we “live and move and have our being” as Paul is said to have told the crowd in his famous speech on the Hill of Mars (the Areopagus) in Athens. Interestingly, he backs this up by noting “as certain of your own poets have said” and then directly quotes from two Stoic writers well-known at that time. In other words, Pagan thinkers also shared this belief in the divine presence surrounding all humanity and pervading the universe.
The third preposition is to my thinking the most potent and important of all. God is in us. That is what is truly meant by the difficult-sounding term, incarnation (literally, enfleshment). The dominant theme underlying all the major religious traditions in the world is that ultimately the presence or essence of the Divine is embodied in every part and dimension of the whole of creation from the very tiniest and as-yet-unkown particles in remotest space to every human heart. Everything is in the end an expression of the God within.
We can deny this, live as atheists, or some perhaps, God forbid, as criminals, yet this reality abides. God in us, or as Paul puts it, the Christ (principle, power, or consciousness) in us, is there to be acknowledged and nurtured all our lives. For Hindus the word for this reality of the God within is called the Atman. Other faiths express the same reality by other terms. Mystics in every tradition come very close together at this point. Sadly, semantics too often masks this underlying unity. It cries out to be recognized as we move ahead on the road to greater global harmony today.