The Presence and Action of God

A common question in spiritual direction is to wonder how God has been present and active in one’s life.  This is a challenging question because it assumes you can know, when many people doubt the very existence of God and others are quick to deny that God could have done something good for you when God didn’t do something good for someone else.

While there is no formula for how God is present and active in one’s life, and no certainty, because the divine is beyond our comprehension, there are particular kinds of experiences that draw me to make that claim and reveal the image of God that I hold.  There are times when something that happens brings life and energy and tears of joy and gratitude and deep peace.  This is easy to imagine if something good occurs, such as a successful surgery.  But it can also happen in the midst of misery when a tiny ray of light breaks through, such as when the partner left behind experiences the comforting presence or a word from the partner who died.

A sense of being accompanied; circumstances rolling out that leave one door open and then the next and the next; finding oneself in the right place at the right time, when you didn’t know from reason that things would work that way—all these touches that I have known feel like being in the flow of God’s living stream, or in the energy-field of God’s love.  The way things play out is far beyond what I might have orchestrated.  There is a different feel, physically and spiritually, and gratitude pours forth.

Finding oneself spoken to by a dream or a passage of scripture or the words of a hymn or song that simply shows up in your mind; getting a sense that something is to be and the sense grows or deepens or is affirmed by your spiritual community or companions; being awed by something you see or that happens—all point beyond us, taking us out of our ego smallness and open us to love and oneness.

I believe that God is in the midst of such experiences, and that each of us and the world around us benefit from such awareness of and attentiveness to the Holy.

Queries:

What is your image of God and how does that impact how you experience, or don’t experience, God’s presence and action?

Do you think God may be present even when you have a sense of God’s absence?

Prayer:

Look back over a period of time—a day, a week, a year—and see if you can be aware of a sense of holiness, or of having blocked such a possibility.  Listen to your heart’s song.

For further reference:

“My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast . . . for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy” (see Psalm 63).

“Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.  The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’  He answered, ‘Here am I, Lord.” (See Acts 9: 1-19.)

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Thy Kingdom Come

The world of American politics is very divisive.  People have strong feelings that this party and its supporters are good and the other party is wrong, bad, even frightening.  Politics seems fundamentally about power and being able to have power over others.  In the midst of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions I find myself turning again to the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father), this time to Thy kingdom come.

When I was younger I was upset by the appeal Thy kingdom come.  It seemed like a plea for a male-dominated, hierarchical governing system, which didn’t interest me then, nor does it now.  Admittedly if God is a white male with a long, flowing beard, seated in heaven far away, pulling strings and sending down lightning bolts to punish, God’s kingdom won’t have much appeal for many of us.

I now yearn for God’s kingdom because I believe it is a time when there is shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace and wellbeing for all.  I think of it as Eden renewed, when God’s word is written on our hearts and God is God of us all and we are all God’s people.  It is like a hidden treasure in a field or a pearl of great value that is worth selling all that I have in order to buy.

The prayer asks for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, and for that to happen on earth, I think right here and right now.  So how do we open to that possibility, because it does happen already in moments and in part?

I think we can choose to try to know all of us as God’s beloved children.  There is so much social change happening now and international insecurity of terrible proportions.  How can we comfort and be comforted?  Can we ask what are the fears, needs, dreams, and hurts of those with whom we disagree?  What am I blind to in those whose views I find unacceptable that keeps me from recognizing our common humanity?  I think everyone yearns to be listened to, heard, and respected.  Everyone wants a sense of having a valued place at the table.

Queries:

What do I understand as the kingdom of God?

What do I have to let go in order not to slam and box up those with whom I disagree?  How do I disagree strongly with someone and yet be open to hear that person’s soul?

Prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

For further reference: 

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (See Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Do what you can to be peace and to do justice, but never expect or demand perfection on this earth. It usually leads to a false moral outrage, a negative identity, intolerance, paranoia, and self-serving crusades against “the contaminating element,” instead of “becoming a new creation” ourselves (Galatians 6:15)—Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, July 27, 2016.

What Is Your Image of God?

The New Testament book of James, while it calls itself a letter, is more like the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures. It gives insights and wisdom about nature and reality and the divine. James 1: 5-8 begins by telling us that if we lack wisdom, all we need to do is to ask God, who gives it generously. All is well. But then he says we have to ask for it in faith without doubt, ending with if we doubt we “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” That stings. Who doesn’t doubt?!

Some people read this passage as saying that when we ask God for anything, if we have faith, we will get it; and if we doubt, we won’t. If we are good, God rewards us; if we don’t obey, God punishes us. If we believe with no doubt that God will cure our loved one with breast cancer, it will happen. But if we doubt, God won’t make her well. Ouch! Such a reading sets us up to be able to manipulate God—and then who is God?

I believe, instead, that this passage is simply telling about how life is. Time and again I can fall into the doubting mode, even doubting the very existence of God. What happens then is that my sense of purpose and meaning disappear. I am anxious, uncertain, and irritable—like an ocean wave blown by the wind. Nothing goes well. I don’t think God is punishing me. I think I am getting the consequences of my choices. And when I turn to God and ask for help, I am met. The turning isn’t an intellectual change. It is simply letting go of the doubt and opening to Mystery. I have merely dropped into God’s flowing stream, where life and gifts lie generously available. There is no reprimand for having doubted—only wisdom.

Queries:

What image of God are you carrying?

What experience have you had of the wind and waves of anxieties and doubts? And of their being calmed?

Prayer:

Ask for what you need, and be open to the presence and action of God in your life.

For further reflection:

“But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (See Matthew 14: 22-33).

“For the Lord gives wisdom. . .” (See Proverbs 2: 1-6).