Meditatio Brevis: Practicing God’s Presence When God Seems Absent

An occasional series of brief spiritual meditations from the clergy of St. John’s

I picked up today for my spiritual reading the little classic Beginning to Pray by Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom. His first chapter deals with the apparent absence of God in our lives, and what that means for developing a life of prayer and practicing God’s presence. In several straightforward pages, Bloom outlines several ways in which we experience God as absent from our lives. All of these ways are worth reflecting upon. Yet one of the types of “absence” caught my eye.

Bloom writes that we need to understand that prayer is an encounter and a relationship with God who which is mutual. All too often we engage in this relationship by imagining that we can conger up the presence of God during our formal prayers, while being oblivious to the Lord the rest of the time. “We complain that God does not make himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for him, but what about the 23 1/2 hours during which God may be knocking at our door and we answer ‘I am busy, I am sorry’ or when we do not answer at all because we do not even hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life.”

I know this rings very true in my life. Often as I am engaged in Morning Prayer or the celebration of the Eucharist the experience is not as infused with the divine presence as I would hope. And yet, I have found myself caught off guard by the Lord’s presence again and again in unexpected places and amid unexpected people. God’s presence can be found in that moment of joy and gratitude while walking downtown, in awe and wonder in the Park, and compassion and empathy surprising me at the store.

The task for me is to be mindful of this ongoing presence throughout my life. I need to slow down and, in the classic spiritual terminology, recollect God’s presence. (On a very personal note in these matters, I have begun to use waiting in long lines at stores as reminders to become recollected. Not that I seek out long lines! I still look for the shortest line at the checkout counter.)

And what of those formal times of prayer which can seem devoid of the divine presence? Am I simply to discard them as wastes of time? Do I forget Morning Prayer? Let Fr. Aidan celebrate the Eucharist from here on out while I spend Sunday mornings with the New York Times? Not at all. The rhythms and words of the Prayer Book faithfully prayed give me the means of recognizing God’s presence in the world around me. Inchoate experiences during the day become understandable in light of God’s presence to us in Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and grasped through the language of collects, psalms, and hymns.  It is also in these formal prayers that we return our experience of God’s presence in the world in our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. All those moment we treasured up in our hearts when God has been present are offered back to the Lord through the prayer of the Church. Thus moments that had seemed dry in worship become moments of recollection.

As we prayed in the Advent antiphon at morning prayer: “Our King and Savior now draws near! Come, let us adore him!”

Grace and Peace,