My daughter, who is five, asked me, “God is everywhere, right? So, he’s under the table? And in the fish tank? And in my ear?” Like every child I’ve ever met, she imagined that God had run himself through a duplicating machine, churning out thousand and millions of identical copies of himself. And thus he is everywhere, filling up the empty spaces of the world like numberless divine packing peanuts.
I tried to explain, but I’m afraid the best I could do was to replace this millions-o’-Gods heresy with a slightly less silly heresy. I believe she now imagines God as the giantest giant ever, and is just so big that, if you took a photo of anything, you’d see him in the background. She’s my sixth child, though, and I’ve learned not to worry: Getting to know God is often a matter of refining layers of heresy until the truth is finally exposed. She’ll get it eventually.
It left me thinking, though, about how I, as a non-heretical adult, perceive God’s presence everywhere. How is he present in my life? Or, as a more practical matter, how can I remind myself that he is present?
When I pray silently, I sometimes wonder if God feels the way I feel when I send my 8-year-old son into the shower. He’s in the bathroom for an appropriate amount of time, he runs the water, and he comes out wearing different clothes—but I notice that he never actually gets, you know, wet. Prayer can be like this: I go through all the motions with good intentions, but I never actually make contact.
So what can be done? I find that it makes a huge difference, before launching into the prayer proper, to say, “I place myself in the presence of God.” Then I just wait a second, and think about it. Depending on my mental state, I might imagine myself before the throne, or as a puny infant in his arms, or like a hungry child waiting to be fed. And then I can go ahead and start to pray. For a more thorough discussion of ways to place yourself in the presence of God, see this post by Jen Fulwiler on her blog, Conversion Diary.
I have also found that doing something physical, even if only with my voice, almost always gets my attention in the way that a mental effort can’t. Here are some very easy things that I do to help myself be aware that God is here.
- I drive around a lot. In a typical day, I pass a Catholic church four times—sometimes as many as eight times. When I do, I make the sign of the cross, as a way of acknowledging as I zip by: Whoa, my redeemer is in there. And so I ask for his blessing as I pass the door. This is a tiny bit embarrassing. At first, it was more of a sacrifice than a blessing; but it gets easier and more noticeably fruitful, and I’ve seen my kids following my example.
- I’ve always wondered if Doubting Thomas was the only one who doubted, when the risen Christ came through the door of the room where the apostles were hiding. Maybe some of the others were confused and uncertain, too, but they were not bold or honest enough to say, “No, I won’t believe it!” Thomas knew that it was really, really important to get it clear whether what was happening was really happening, or if it just looked that way. And so he dared to admit that he was unsure, and then to probe the wounds of Christ. When he made that physical contact, then he believed. And so I always say the words he said, “My Lord and my God,” at the elevation of the host and the chalice at the consecration. Speaking these words out loud (well, in a tiny whisper) is, for me, like that physical contact that Thomas made, and it helps me to believe.
- Here’s something I used to do, and haven’t had the courage for lately: When someone uses God’s name in vain, whether swearing or just carelessly, you say, “Blessed be the name of Jesus,” as a small act of reparation. This one is trickier because the person who said it is likely to hear you, and will either think you’re talking to yourself, or are chastising him. My son (the same one who takes dry showers) recently took it on himself to stand up and tell his class that it bothers him when they use God’s name in vain. I was so proud! Even if it only makes one kid be more aware that the name of God is not just another word, then he’s done a wonderful thing.
How about you? How do you help yourself be more aware of God’s presence?