Experiencing the Presence of God in Your Life?

Do. do. do. do. do.

What is at stake if we have forgotten how to be?

Each morning one of my standard greetings is “Keep up the good work.” I am subtly missing the point.   This greeting doesn’t come from ill intention. And, in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t inherently bad. However, in this greeting, I emphasize too much that a person’s daily value comes from their productivity rather than their being. Instead, maybe I should greet “It’s good to be with you this morning.” Spiritually, this distinction has ramifications.

There are two aspects of being:
1) That we are (existence)
2) What we are (essence)

Philosophically, this is true at the very grounding of our being. ‘What we are’ necessarily presupposes ‘that we are.’ If we focus too much on ‘what we are,’ forgetting ‘that we are,’ we demean our dignity. ‘What we are’ is important too, but too often this stifles and kills off the wonder ‘that we are.’ Isn’t it a wonder that we exist at all?  We have been loved into existence. Unconditional Love rests in the fact that we exist. There are no other conditions. When we forget this first principle we lose the vision for the whole trajectory of how to organize our lives.

‘What we are’ has some bearing though. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in calling us Children of God. Yet that is what we are” (1 John 3:1). We too often define ourselves by something peripheral to our being. We not only exist, but we exist as beloved children of God. Let us keep first things first.

For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?   -Matthew 16:26

A second takeaway from this initial metaphysics is that insofar as we exist, God is intimately present in our lives. God is that absolute source of being itself. God is not ‘a being’ as if he is the greatest being among many. Rather, God is the source of all being. He creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. He is not an object in this universe, but the source for the possibility of even having a universe. If you look up, you won’t find heaven. God is beyond the material universe.  (Here is an interesting video that is semi-related)

Therefore, insofar as we are existing at this very moment, God is holding us in existence. And therefore, He is intimately present to us whether we recognize it or not. God is present before doing is even possible. As St. Augustine said, God is “interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.” God is both more intimate to me, than I am to myself, and beyond my highest being. Further, God is Love (1 John 4:8), and thus we can confidently rest by dwelling silently in His loving embrace. Love is holding us in existence.

In this restful embrace then, how might we pray?  Initially, by doing nothing. Just be.
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

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Then, practically speaking, prayer works best at the beginning of the day for me. I begin by sitting in my blue chair and by clearing my mind and heart of everything. I breathe in and out. Inhale. Exhale. And I sit. Silence is absolutely essential. At times I do enjoy listening to music to set the tone, but my standard prayer must begin in silence. I simply rest in God, and only after that do I begin to mediate on scripture (check these out for helpful scripture resources).

Another option is to go to a sacred space in a church. Certain spaces can help us be more disposed to the presence of God. Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful opportunity for prayer at a local Catholic Church. Jesus is uniquely present to us in the Sacrament.

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Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. “I look at him and he looks at me“: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle. This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men. Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.
-Catechism of the Catholic Church #2715

God is intimately present to us in life, more so than we are to ourselves. We can begin to experience this through mediating on the initial fact that we exist. Sit in silence, and rest in the presence of God, free from distractions. God loves you first and foremost because of the very fact He created you. You have dignity in the very fact that you exist.  Do not do. Simply, Be.

Then, if you are looking to continue after that, pick up the Bible. Try meditating with the Psalms in the Old Testament. They cover the entire range of human emotions and can speak to the heart in a particularly powerful way. They teach us language for prayer. They are the prayers that Jesus prayed.

Psalm 62:1-8
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly moved.

How long will you set upon a man
to shatter him, all of you,
like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his eminence.
They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
but inwardly they curse.

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 139: 1-18

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You searched out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You best me behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts,
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am wondrously made.
Wonderful are your works!
You know me right well;
my frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Your eye beheld my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
When I awake, I am still with you.

 

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All the Light We Cannot See: A Homily?

Novels, or stories, are particularly helpful to teach us truths about different aspects of our human experience. All the Light We Cannot See is a recent novel written by Anthony Doerr. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. The book is beautiful, filled with a rich and elegant vocabulary, making it incredibly pleasant to read, while also presenting to us a thought-provoking tale. In addition, it gives us insight into the theological virtue of faith.

Marie-Laure was a 6-year old French girl when she went blind. Her father, Daniel, was a very loving man, a locksmith, and a skilled woodworker. He treasured his daughter. The story is set in World War II as the Germans are about to invade France. Marie-Laure’s father was deeply worried about his daughter getting lost, so he built her an exact wooden model replica of the town. For hours and hours, Marie-Laure’s hands explored and fumbled over all the intricate details of the town. Through those many hours with the wooden model, she became keenly aware of the greater reality of her town, aware of all those features she otherwise would miss. Her father Daniel would then take her to different parts of the town where she would have to carefully walk finding her way home. There is a lot of visible light that Marie-Laure does not see. Throughout the novel, though, she finds a way to see into a deeper reality and truth than many of her non-blind friends do.

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Our world is fascinating. Yes, it is a world that is rational and follows certain scientific laws. Science is true and good. Our world has an intelligibility to it, accessible to our probing minds. At the same time, it is also a world that is deeply mysterious and enchanted. Contemporary physics has defied the modern expectations of a deterministic world. There remains a certain unpredictability, or openness, to our world. Any claim to the contrary lacks humility.

Our world is a reality that cannot be exhausted. What I mean by this, is that though it is palpably close to us, it is also utterly beyond our control. We find we are stewards rather than masters. Do we have the humility to acknowledge our human limitations?

I introduce these observations to make clear the correct relationship between faith and science. Science is good and true. However, scientism is a fallacy that is all-too-popular today. Scientism claims that science is the only way toward truth. Scientism reduces everything to the scientific mode of investigation as if that was the only mode. Scientism sets up science as an idol by making science as the true God. The major error we see with this is that it reaches science a step too far beyond its competence. There are many important questions that are properly non-scientific questions. Science only investigates the empirical world, the world of matter, material things. But doesn’t love have an immaterial aspect to it? Is love simply a certain mixture of pheromones and chemical bonds? Do we actually believe that? Or what about beauty? Does beauty have no greater reality than its atomic components? Further, you cannot scientifically prove science. The possibility of science must be proved my something other than itself, and this is where we enlist philosophy. Philosophy helps us to understand the nature of science, as well as the foundation for many other beliefs we hold. Philosophy shows us the truth is attainable through other ways of investigating reality: faith (theologically understood), art, and literature being three such ways.

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So, what do Marie-Laure and science have to do with faith? These help us show the role faith needs to play in our lives to live in the fullness of truth rather than with just a partial truth. Our life is necessarily incomplete without faith.  Faith is “the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We see that the Lord, Our Redeemer, teaches us what is for our good.  “By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Heb 11:3). God is the creator of the world. As the creator, He created us out of love and for love. He is not in competition wanting to limit us. Living the virtue of faith is living life to reflect these truths. Faith, as the evidence of things not seen, is making decisions in life with the understanding that we have a loving and merciful God who wants to give us deep joy. He desires our prosperity to be like a river and for us to have descendants as numerous as the grains of sand in the desert (cf. Is 48:18). Faith is to trust God.

Therefore, scientism is too small a worldview for us. It’s too small because it ignores the Creator who made science even possible. Science is true, but only part of the truth. Faith grounds our knowledge and elevates our scientific knowing. Faith answers the deeper questions that science cannot know, like the question of why life is worth living? So rather than putting God and science against each other, instead, let’s live with both God and science, with both in their proper place working in sync. Let God as our loving Father direct our life to show us what makes life worth living. Let’s also then thank God for the gift of an intelligible world, the fact that we have minds that can understand, and use science to be good stewards of this world.

Faith must be a gift from God. This means that we must pray for God to increase this virtue within us. As the Gospel of Mark tells us, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We do have control of allowing ourselves to be open to receiving faith. We have the ability open or close our eyes to God. How much light are we willing to let in?

Faith is a form of vision that we walk our life by. Marie-Laure’s blindness allowed her to see more of All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, it allowed her a greater physical knowledge of her town, but as you read the book it appears to give her a precise moral insight as well. She understands all of reality in a more profound way than the other characters. Had she never been blind, she would have never known home so well. Her blindness required her to spend many hours exploring that intricate wooden-model. Do we spend hours in prayer exploring our world? Her blindness required her to grow in trust, and it was easy to trust her father because he loved her so much. Even with that fatherly love, though, being forced to actually walk home, while blind, those first few times, was difficult and scary. Faith requires us to trust our loving Father, just like Marie-Laure. It requires us to trust God and to spend many hours exploring the intricacies of our life and purpose. This means we need the sacraments. We need to receive Jesus often in the Eucharist. We need reconciliation. We need to heal our broken relationships with God and others. This means we need a prayer life. We need to schedule time each day to sit in quiet prayer, asking God for ears to hear and a heart that is soft. Lord, give me your eyes to see as you do; thin that veil between heaven and earth in my life. Lord, give me eyes to see All the Light I Cannot See. Lord, give me touch to feel the work you are doing in my life.

What if we had more than five senses? What if we could experience reality in more intense and varied ways? It would be nice to thin that veil between heaven and earth a little more, although we’ve all experienced it before, little tastes of heaven.  The virtue of faith does that for us. Faith thins that veil, giving us a more complete picture of how everything fits together in our life.

The Gospel today shows a generation that refuses the possibility for faith. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard’” (Matt 11:19). That generation was impossible to please. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. We must not close our eyes like that generation. We must not limit our vision too much. For, what is Faith if not the gift of the vision of All the Light We Cannot See?

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*Based on the readings from Friday of the Second Week in Advent- Lectionary: 185
This was a practice homily assignment for my moral theology class. The focus was to encourage the faithful to grow in the virtue of Faith.