Hourly every weekday and frequently during weekends, I stop everything I’m doing for a few minutes of intercessory prayer. I have a constantly open invitation to friends, family, acquaintances, my Facebook community and, well, pretty much the whole world to pray for anyone’s particular needs. So I have a long list of folks for whom I pray.
For a long time, I opened those moments with words such as, “My God, please accept me into your Holy Presence.” I thought it would be cool to lift up the people on my list while surrounded by all God’s angels and saints – with God looking on.
Then, while praying with Psalm 139, these words grabbed my attention in a new way:
Where can I go from your spirit?
From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.
According to www.catholic.com, Sheol is the Jewish word for where everyone goes at death, and that it has a “good sector and bad sector,” Professor Scott Hahn says. “Purgatory is the good sector, where once purgation of those souls bound for heaven occurs, they are set free. The bad sector of (Sheol), those souls don’t get a chance. They are eventually bound for Gahenna,” or Hell.
Thus, God is present in Heaven, but also in Purgatory. To my mind, that implies that the only place where God can’t be found would be hell. Wherever we may flee, there God is present.
I realized I don’t need to ask God to accept me into his Holy Presence. Wherever I am, whatever I do, He already is there. That led me to change my prayer-opening words to something like, “Dear Lord, thank you for allowing me to be with you during this last hour. Now, please give me an even greater awareness of your Holy Presence constantly during this next hour and hear my heartfelt prayers offered in that Presence.”
During a recent offering to my St. Louis community of Secular Carmelites, Father Christopher Seiler shared some thoughts on the “threefold presence of God.” I will reflect on each of those three in time, but for now I’d like to focus on what David professed in Psalm 139 and other Psalms: Wherever we may go, He will be there.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says that God’s omnipresence means “on the one hand that God is necessarily present everywhere in space as the immanent cause and sustainer of creatures, and on the other hand that He transcends the limitations of actual and possible space, and cannot be circumscribed or measured or divided by any spatial relations. … He is the cause and ground of all reality. According to our finite manner of thinking we conceive this presence of God in things spatial as being primarily a presence of power and operation. … God Himself, or the Divine nature, is in immediate contact with, or immanent in, every creature — conserving it in being and enabling it to act.”
God isn’t present merely in all places. He is present everywhere, yes, but also in everything and every action. As a priest told me once, “If something exists, then God must be thinking about it, otherwise it wouldn’t exist.”
Of course, God’s omnipresence doesn’t mean much to us unless we are aware of Him. Jacob once awakened and realized that “surely God is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). The Book of Deuteronomy (4:29) says that if we seek God with all our heart and soul, we will find Him. In the Letter of James, chapter 4 verse 8, he advises that if we would draw near to God, then He will draw near to us.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of comprehending God’s Presence everywhere and in everything is that we don’t have to wait until eternal life to realize the joy of heaven, where we will revel in the Beatific Vision of God. Too often, we spend our lives trying to live the right way and believe the right things in order to spend eternity with God in heaven when we neglect the joy we can live on earth.
If I read Jesus’ words correctly, he taught us how to live in the Kingdom of God right here on earth, at any time. I have found that to be true in several ways.
Of course, that involves all the ways we can perceive God’s presence with our senses – some more subtly, some more obviously.
Where there is love, there is God. And although it’s not as easily detected, where there is hatred or sadness, God is there as well. We can read in Genesis 1:26 that every human being possesses the image of God. And Jesus says, in the Gospel of Luke, that the kingdom of God is within each of us. He always is available. Where there is justice and mercy, where there are people who are mourning or celebrating, where there is suffering or striving, there is God. Where there is work to be done or rest to be enjoyed, where there is peace or turmoil, where there is silence or chaos, where there are tears or laughter, there is God.
We often notice that God’s Presence overwhelms us in a beautiful sunrise or stunning sunset. But He’s there when the sky looks ho-hum. He’s there in the intense heat of a summer day or the painful cold of a deep winter chill, in the chirping of birds or roaring of lions, in the scent of a rose or foul odor of a swamp. Where there are acts of great generosity and where there is unspeakable hatred, where there are signs of vast wealth or abject poverty, He’s there.
He is ever-present in cities, with honking car horns and looming skyscrapers, bustling sidewalks and blowing pieces of trash in the streets. He can be found as well in small towns and in the wide-open spaces, on every highway and dirt road that connects them all. Every continent, among every peoples of every race, color, religion – whether they believe in a Higher Power or not – and even if there isn’t a soul to be found for hundreds of miles–He is there.
“Everywhere I go, I see you,” sang the late Rich Mullins. Unfortunately, He gave us only two eyes with which to see it all, only two ears to hear it all, only one heart to love them all, only one mind to perceive it all.
We spend so much of our days hoping to live in a way worthy of being with God when all we need do is be with Him. At any moment, if we simply turn toward Him, we will find He has been there the whole time, watching us and waiting for us, ready to listen and tell, to hold and comfort, to reveal and awe. God is there most powerfully in our suffering, when we are at wit’s end and have exhausted all other options. “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.” (Psalm 46:1)
And in those moments when we turn our eyes, our ears, our hearts toward Him and don’t detect His Holy Presence, still He is there. Indeed, He is present as well in the gift of faith.
“O my God, since thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech thee to grant me the grace to continue in thy presence; and to this end do thou prosper me with thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.”