by Bobby Atendido, BCBP Alabang
I attended a recollection with some classmates sometime ago and i was struck by one question that was raised during the talk of “the famous Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S. J. The question was “How do I feel the presence of God in my life?”
It was a very honest and sincere question from a classmate who I suppose was in real search of God at this stage of his life. His very attendance in the recollection with his wife was proof enough of their trying to look for God. I do not know how far along he is on the road to spirituality but I suppose, whether he is a “baby” Christian or a mature one, it was a fair question to ask.
At first glance, the question got me thinking that we in the Brotherhood are blessed indeed because feeling the presence of God is a way of life that we all strive for (that’s what we would like to think anyway). We commit ourselves to prayer and scripture reading, community worship, breakfast sharings and other activities. When there are times that He seems to disappear specially when petitions are left unanswered, we even assure ourselves that we must continue to believe that in God’s own time, He will respond to our pleas because we know that God always answers prayers and He only has our best interest in mind. At least, this is the theory.
Awareness and Desire to be in His Presence
I believe that there are many things that we do or experience everyday that can send us straight to the heart of God. If only we dare to look and be aware, it would seem logical to assume that God’s presence can be found every moment of life. I think this is the key – to be aware, to take notice of God’s involvement in our daily activities, his omnipresence in everything around us. We need to desire to be in His presence. Psalms 105:4 says: “Seek out the Lord and his might; constantly seek his face. ” The trouble is we don’t.
This is probably because awareness is not something that comes naturally. There are so many that go through life without being aware, which is so sad to see. The problem with awareness, I think, is that it is so much other-oriented. You have to see the other’s viewpoint. You need to see beyond yourself. Selfish people are so absorbed in themselves and in their activities that it will be difficult for them to be aware of the presence of God. To be sensitive and aware of others is clouded by self-interest. Remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man only became aware when it was too late and his fate was irreversible.
That is why, I believe, that while awareness is a gift from God, it requires a purposeful decision to cross the chasm. We have to desire. To feel the presence of God necessitates the convergence of our desire to see God and the Holy Spirit clearing up our hearts and minds to God’s working in our lives. Surely, our Lord wants to be involved in every minutiae of our activities. But we are too busy looking the other way.
In the complex, secular world that we live in today, busy people have a hard time seeing the movements of God in daily life. The days are crammed with activities. There seems to be a shortage of time. People search for a quick fix. A retreat or recollection here and there, we think, will suffice. Some teachings are good additives.
This is the problem with busy people. Like the question raised by my classmate, we want to know the “how to’s” in our relationship with God, as if the solution can be found in a manual. We seek a magical answer. We insert God into our schedules like any other meeting. Even prayer time becomes an agenda item, something that we dispense with after the allotted time.
Feeling His Presence versus Being in His Presence
More than feeling, however, it is “being in God’s presence” that should be the goal. As it is often said, feelings are fleeting. They rise and fall depending on circumstances. When we are busy, we cannot feel God’s presence although surely being in his presence amidst the busy-ness of life is entirely possible. It all depends on one’s perspective. The best example of being in the presence of God is Mother Teresa who for 40 years in her ministry did not “feel” His presence. She in fact felt abandoned and yet she persisted in doing God’s work, loving and caring for the poorest of the poor. Her conviction to do good was not dependent on feeling God’s presence. I am sure for all those times of feeling loneliness, she was in God’s presence.
The famous author of The Purpose Driven Life, Mr. Rick Warren, shares some lessons from the classic book “Practicing the Presence of God.” It was written in the 17th century by Brother Lawrence, a humble cook in a French monastery. Brother Lawrence was able to turn even the most commonplace and menial tasks, like preparing meals and washing dishes, into acts of praise and communion with God.
” The key to friendship with God, he said, is not changing what you do, but changing your attitude toward what you do. What you normally do for yourself, you begin doing for God, whether it is eating, bathing, working, relaxing, or taking out the trash.”
“Today we often feel we must “get away” from our daily routine in order to worship God, but that is only because we haven’t learned to practice his presence all the time. Brother Lawrence found it easy to worship God through the common tasks of life; he didn’t have to go away for special spiritual retreats.”
Being in the presence of God 24×7 is therefore possible even for businessmen and professionals. If we change our attitude and offer what we are doing all for the glory of God, then we sanctify our activities and work. We can say a prayer before a meeting or even pray for the wisdom of God during difficult and testy moments in a meeting. We can pray for the person we are negotiating with so that together everyone can arrive at a win-win solution. We can pray for our bosses who do not appreciate our work. And if we are blessed with a bonus or a promotion, the first thing is to thank God for them. Yes it is possible to be in God’s presence all the time.
I believe this is the key. We must make a decision to draw near to Him to experience his presence. God is never far. He’s just a heartbeat away. Move toward him and He is there for us. We must always remember that drawing near to God is a moment by moment event. Let us remind ourselves that there are very few mountain-top experiences like Moses’ when God manifests Himself in such a clear, incontrovertible way. Deciding to be in the presence of God must become a daily habit of moving towards God. Like an athlete, we must train our sights to notice God when He crosses our path every day. Catch the moment or else we’ll miss it.
The question then, or more appropriately the challenge, is how do you draw nearer to God and be in His presence.
My own experience with being in the presence of God requires a change in paradigm, a conversion, a transformation, a continuing commitment. It is a long process. It may even be called a struggle as one tries to get into the habit of feeling God everyday considering the obstacles that the evil one throws on our paths. Being in God’s presence is not confined to one’s prayer time but an awareness of and responding to God all the time. Difficult, isn’t it? Rick Warren says, however, that “since God is in us all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place one is at anytime.”
Being in the presence of God is a way of life. It is an attitude that we must constantly nurture through prayer and reading and living out His word. It is an awareness of the daily blessings we enjoy from Him and being grateful for them. It is to invite ourselves into the presence of God when we wake up, when we do our work, and before we sleep. It is to see Christ in others especially the least fortunate of our brethren. It is to act and do something for the poor. It is to share our bounty with others. It is to listen to those who are experiencing pain, suffering, or in distress. It is making oneself available to God’s beck and call, to listen intently to the footsteps of God as he chases us
I remember a Mass celebrated by Fr. Herb many years ago in one of our BCLP sessions where I felt the strong holy presence of Jesus Christ in the Mass, an awesome experience I have never felt in my life up to that point. It was as if it was Jesus himself celebrating the Mass. I could not help it but my tears were flowing freely during that time. I was filled with joy, so much peace and serenity in my heart. That was a moment of grace for me.
At other times, i have felt the heartbeat of God through certain songs we sing in the community that absolutely set my spirit soaring to the heavens. I can practically sense the joy of God within the notes. It was like being part of the choir of angels singing and glorifying God. Some songs have even led me to shed tears of joy for no reason at all.
I once in a while take a walk in the early morning. During this time, I do feel the presence of God. Such moments have become divine for me as I thank Him for the simple blessings of life which are often ignored or taken for granted – the fact of being able to walk, to see, to hear the chirping of the birds, to feel, to think and imagine, to talk, to have one more day of life, to be healthy, to be able to eat and have a roof over our heads, and so many other blessings.
Love is the End Goal of Being in the Presence of God
The final point I want to make is that being in the presence of God has to involve a response of love. This is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. Just being in his presence will be incomplete if we are unable to translate his presence into loving actions. Sometimes, this is the shortcoming of charismatic people. We feel good coming together in communal prayer. Seeing praise songs is certainly edifying. But the question is “Do we love much?”
This Easter season, let us train ourselves to stay in the presence of God. Recognize Him during our day. Give Him the glory for the many blessings we receive. Give thanks to the Lord and rejoice in His presence. But most important of all, we must love. Love Jesus above all and love those around us.
” Lord, bless us all so that we will draw nearer to you each day, to share with you our work, our concerns and the joys of each day. Make us more loving, gentle and meek, friendly and gentle-hearted. Take away our frailties and deliver us from our weaknesses and temptations. Anoint our minds and tongues so that we will speak truthfully and gently, never to speak evil of other persons but to use them to edify. Bless our hearts so that we will be discerning and aware of your most holy will. Grant us the courage to follow you and be obedient to your will. Thank you Lord for everything you have done for us, for all the blessings you so generously shower upon us and our loved ones. We desire and will always love you. Amen”
Happy Easter to everyone!