Once when I was young, perhaps three or four years old, my uncle was visiting our family. He had a quirky sense of humor that tended toward practical jokes. I was playing outside on a sunny spring morning, when he joined me in the backyard with a saltshaker, and a mischievous look on his face. As happens during spring in Minnesota, our yard was filled with robins hopping around looking for worms.

My uncle asked, in a conspiratorial manner, “Do you want to catch a robin?” Of course I did: What fun! He said, “Take this saltshaker, sneak up, and put some salt on a bird’s tail. Then when it turns around to taste the salt, you can catch it.”

I spent quite some time trying this scheme, only to fail time and again. Finally, in frustration, I sat down in the grass. My mother, who had been watching this little drama and knowing that I had fallen victim to my uncle’s tricky ways, came out, picked me up, and gave me a big hug. Then we went into the house together to have some hot cocoa.

Another time, many decades later, I was more successful in trying to catch something. This time we were at Ananda’s community near Assisi, Italy, enjoying a relaxed dinner with some friends. Suddenly, one of the women screamed, “There’s a mouse! There’s a mouse!” Her scream, of course, frightened the poor little creature, and it scurried away. This was a situation that begged for a solution, and I had one.

I asked for a shoebox, which I propped up with a fork, and put some cheese inside. I tied a string to the fork and enjoyed the rest of the meal and a long, lovely conversation with our friends. But out of the corner of my eye, I was watching the box. Eventually, the little mouse came out and went for the cheese. I jerked the string, the box fell over him, and he was caught. A little later we took him out and let him go in the woods.

Of these two stories, I think that, oddly, the first is the better way to catch God. The second story left me feeling a certain sense of accomplishment in my trapping prowess, which drove out the realization that I never caught the mouse: It caught me. After all, with a little reflection we begin to realize that it was Divine Mother playing all the parts: the mouse; the box, string, and cheese; and all the friends sitting at the table. She was entertaining us for the evening. My little sense of pride made Her hide, just as surely as the scream of my friend had the mouse.

Sometimes we need calm, sustained determination, remaining alert for God’s whispers.

But both stories illustrate a valid part of our quest to catch God. Sometimes we need calm, sustained determination, remaining alert for God’s whispers. Ultimately, however, any energy we put out is only part of the picture. Yogananda said that our efforts amount to twenty-five percent, while the grace of God and Guru makes up the other seventy-five percent.

If we think we can catch God with “tricky ways,” we are sadly mistaken. The first story shows us that there are things, both in this world and in our spiritual quest, that are beyond our willful control. When we try to put salt on the tail of God, He always seems to flit away. Finally, in surrender, we need to sit quietly in a pleasant, sunny place. When we do this in meditation, Divine Mother comes, wraps us in Her arms, and takes us home.

In joy,

Nayaswami Jyotish

P.S. Paramhansa Yogananda spoke often, and with great fervor, about the importance of spiritual cooperative communities. The development of these communities has been a special focus of Ananda and of its founder, Swami Kriyananda. In the last few years, Ananda has built a remarkable online community for those many sincere devotees who aren’t in a position to move to one of Ananda’s physical communities such as Ananda Village. If you’d like to learn more about this community, and perhaps become part of it yourself, I heartily encourage you to attend an online talk Devi and I will be giving this Saturday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m., called “The Role of (Online) Spiritual Community in Supporting Spiritual Growth.” The program is at no charge, as part of a 14-day free trial membership in the community. To participate, sign up for the trial near the bottom of the page here (under either “monthly” or “yearly”). You’ll receive in short order (before Saturday evening) a link to the event. We hope you can join us. 

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12 Comments

  1. Dear Nayaswami Jyotish Ji,

    Thank you for this beautiful blog. Enjoyed reading it.

    Joy,
    Prem

  2. Lovely remembrance from your childhood ❤.
    The first was innocent efforts from the heart ❤ but 2nd was practical effort with the application of mind.
    ❤ heart is the home of lord & mind when mastered helps us to be there 🙏 & loved your lovely experiences.

  3. Thank you for the information and invitation.
    As I am already engaged with some other activities, I am unable to join this event.
    G V S

  4. In regard to,”catching God”, I remember hearing swami
    say in one of his talks that we have Him already…this may
    need some clarification since it is not so much trying to
    “trap” God so that we have Him,but more of a getting
    things out of the way,with God and the guru to help in
    that effort,so that in time we will always be in communion,
    the highest samadi,nirbikalpa.

    1. Thanks for the comment. It is a matter of perspective. We not only have God already, but are God. Our problem is that we don’t yet truly realize that. As long as we still retain the separation of ego, then we will have a me/Thou relationship. In this state it might seem that we are trying to catch Him. One of Yogananda’s highest prayers was “Reveal Thyself,” which is a better way of approaching our current state of separation than “catching Him,” but that wasn’t my understanding when I was a child.

      1. I so appreciate the exchange between greg and Jyotish here. …In a meritocracy, i.e., in American culture, generally, only high achievement merits social acceptance and approval. Though ultimately false, the idea is deeply ingrained in us: “God helps those who help themselves; all others have earned God’s apathy, if not disdain.” That is, we live in a shame-based society, generally, and have been indoctrinated in that polarized view of ourselves and others; without recognizing it, we see ourselves either in terms of prestige or lowliness. But God’s Love, I have cause to believe, is not meritocratic. And “Catching God” is more a matter of catching ourselves being judgmental and, then, strategically dispelling that anxious impulse to always garner favor and avoid disapproval. As greg suggests, communion with God is intrinsic to who we are as His children. We are “all of us brothers and sisters in the spirit of this all-informing mythos,” to quote professor of comparative religion Joseph Campbell. We are anointed and Love reigns o’er and through us, if only we can learn to silence our anxious impulses to the contrary.

  5. Dear Jyothishji, thank you for the wonderful blog. I am reminded of a saying in Tamilnadu about catching a crane by putting butter on its head and blinding it when the butter melts.In the same way as you pointed out,God can’t be caught by trickery.As you said our calm surrender only will catch this Bird. Thank you once again

  6. Thank you dear soul, for a deeply sweet reminder of “catching” Divine Mother. I’m looking at a sweet Christmas card from Surya of Master’s eyes. The card reminds me often of the words written below his picture: “To those who think me near, I WILL be near.” When I maintain this focus, I feel his presence tangibly. Namaste

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