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.

 

On Death

I’ve never been with a person when they die. I’ve never been there for the final breath. It’s an occasion that I’ve thought about many times before. One of those ephemeral times when we rest from our ceaseless activities and collide with the reality of death. Our gaze forced to contemplate mortality.  A moment where time stills. The air a little denser than normal. Emotions emanate a bit easier. Tears, even if not from sadness, flow. It’s a time of purging, and hopefully a time of peace. It’s a moment where we cast off spectacle, standing exposed.

And at the same time, its utter reality is mystical. We experience the metaphysical, the true fullness of nature. Supernatural – above nature. Faith gives us assurance, but the chasm still percolates with mystery. I just finished Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See. In it a character notes that visible light, the light that we see, only makes up a very small portion of all the light that exists. More reality exists than what is just visible. The mystery of death puts us face to face with this fullness of reality.

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Last week my grandma’s brother Roger passed away. A few nights ago my grandpa’s brother Ken passed away. They were both good men, and I’ve always respected and enjoyed seeing them, even if it has only been in brief spurts growing up. Their passings have given me a few reflections over the past few days.

My mother and I were sitting in Ken’s hospital room the morning of his last day. We knew Ken was going to die soon. It was surprising he hadn’t passed the previous night. This 94 year-old man had lived a full life, with roughly 4 times the memories and experiences that I’ve had. [And I think I’ve been around for a while]. He’d fallen in love, raised a family, experienced war, grown old. He outlived 99% of his friends. Everything that he’d ever experienced climaxed to this one final day, and I was one who got to share it with him.

Ken couldn’t talk. He was fairly unresponsive. But, he knew we were there. We greeted him as we entered and sat near his bed. And then my mom reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it tenderly. She told him that we love him, that he’s been a blessing to our family, and that God loves him too. The power of a simple touch conveyed a depth of love words couldn’t express. It was tender and simple, compassionate and natural. A capacity I can grow in.

We started to pray the rosary with him. We’d say it aloud and he’d listen, holding my mother’s hand. And though he was mostly unresponsive, he could still squeeze her hand. After we finished the first decade he reached up and grabbed my hand, holding it as we continued to pray. I’m probably definitely one of the least touchy guys around, [I generally hate hugs at the sign of peace] but in that moment it was right, it was powerful, it was perfect. Holding Kenneth’s hand was an experience of Jesus’ love. Overwhelming love. On a man’s last day on this earth, I got to experience a part of it with him. Fortunately, that’s a gift in the priesthood that I’ll get to share with countless others.

In this Year of Mercy in the Church, I understand a little deeper why visiting the sick is such an important corporal work of mercy. One that I haven’t had too much experience with yet. I appreciate the role doctors, nurses, and others have to play in this ministry. I appreciate the power of love that I see my mother demonstrate so well, especially with her care for my grandma. I think about the loneliness that so many face, as they prepare to face death, and the importance of us sharing that journey with them. I’m also grateful for God’s mercy and love in my own life, and for Jesus not letting death have the final word.

Finally, I appreciate God’s gift of sadness. Tears of a joy from a life well lived. When things are worth crying about, things are worth living for.

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