Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Presence of God

Exodus 33:14b "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."

One of my favorite books is a small but powerful volume by an obscure monk from a bygone era. Well, actually he was obscure during his lifetime but not so obscure anymore. His book can be printed by going here:

Brother Lawrence says, "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it."

I recently attended a silent retreat at an abbey not far from my town. I've been there on several previous occasions, and the silence is like a personal gift from God each time I am there. This is true whether or not I think God speaks anything profound to my heart. But my most recent stay there started me thinking about these words of Brother Lawrence...a continual conversation with a way to practice becoming more aware of God's presence.

How is it possible, in this noisy, busy word, to have a continual conversation with the Lord? And how do we know when we are experiencing God's presence? I know God is all around us--as the Psalmist David affirmed when he wrote, "Where can I flee from your Spirit?" And the Holy Spirit takes up resdence in the believer. But what is it that makes us aware? What is it that makes us think, or sometimes say, "God is here"?

I clearly recall the first time I was aware of the presence of God's Spirit even though more than fortty years have passed. I'm sure there had been other times when God's Spirit was very close and active, such as when I knelt to pray for Jesus to "come into my heart," but I hadn't been particularly aware. I hadn't "felt" anything.

On this occasion I was about ten years old and attending a Billy Graham crusade in the Los Angeles collesium. It was a lovely warm California night, and the great stadium was packed. But there was something supernatural pricking my senses. Billy gave his usual clear call to walk the aisle down to the front and to pray with him for Jesus to forgive sins and save us and make us citizens of Heaven. The choir sang, "Just As I Am"-- and a profound hush fell over the place. There were moments of stillness which the child me recognized. I leaned to my older sister and whispered, "Do you feel it? Do you feel the Holy Spirit?" She, with wide eyes, nodded wordlessly. Not knowing how to describe it, I said, in awe, "It's heavy.

Father Tim, Jan Karon's lovable fictional character in the Mitford series describes how one morning the Holy Spirit is clearly present in his little Episcopalian church. And Father Tim says, "When the Spirit comes--ah, it is glorious!" I couldn't agree more.

What makes us aware that God is, in an unusual way, present?


D. P. said...

Let me try to explain by confessing that I don't "do" Pentecostal worship very well :-) When the praise begins to flow, it is wonderful. People all around me may be singing praise choruses, or lifting the hands, or speaking in tongues, or any of the other things that Pentecostal worship is noted for featuring. I may join in at the beginning, but if I am truly moved by God, eventually I just shut up, sit down, and rest in the stillness of it. I don't begrudge the others their sometimes frenetic activity, but that is not for me. When I am deeply aware that God is present and is working on/in me, I crave an island of stillness. Sometimes the stillness itself is an almost tangible phenomenon to me. Consciousness of God's presence is what happens when I stop doing whatever it is that I think I can do to generate it.

Anonymous said...

I have had many times when I've known that God's presence was with me in a very real way - more so than normal. It's hard to explain. My spiritual antenna are quivering and alert in a different way. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a bubble of quietness where all of the hubbub around me is muted. There's a warmth inside that I can't explain. Deep peace and love, even when I know I'm in trouble.

It always surprises me how others around me are so unaware of God's presence at times like that. I can feel like the Lord is *right there* and people chatter away as though there's nothing special going on. I realize it's special for me and not for them, but it still surprises me.

Sermons have been about this topic lately. I'll have to see about getting you some copies of CDs, if you are interested.

I think it's the quietness that envelopes me that is my best clue that it is really God's presence. It's quiet, yet alert. "Heavy" is a good word for it. Like being wrapped in a huge, familiar, comforting, warm quilt and held by someone who dearly loves you.

It's difficult to explain. I'm not sure if anyone has the words to explain it because it's being with God, who is unexplainable.


Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

What I find that's a real dichotomy is how I can be so into the worship service and feeling of God's presence, and then step out of it and be critical and wonder if anyone feels those aspets that I feel.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

My friend, Pastor Dorcas, (of ECA) has ask those of us on that list to discussion our sense of feeling the presence of God.The reader can find her refelctions on this topic on the link on the right side bar to the blog "the Owl's song."

Just to tackle it from a phenomenologial persective, that is, to record the sensations and sense of it without commentary or attempt to categorize or expalin.

I have many different experiences which I associate with the presence of God. It's hard to describe and sometimes easy to confusse the thing itself withe certain affects. For example if I say "I have a great sense of peace," that doesn't really speak to the sense of God's presence but the affect of God's presence; yet sometimes that's all that can be said.

My frist such experince,when I really said "hey there's some reality here beyond anything I've known," was the night I got born again. At that time I a sensation of being looked at from some great height. I had a sense of being cleaned, especially inside. I felt a sense of all pervacive peace and cleaness and as it washed over me I felt I was being cleaned. I felt loved. I felt that someone was looking at me with great love.

When I got baptism of the Holy Spirit I sensed something like elecricity. another way I've descbied it is "liquid love." I don't know why I say "liquid" becasue even though the sensation was akin to wetness, I remained dry. I also felt a tingling all over lik electricity. Physical affects included palms of my hands burning and tingling, a force like a magnet pulling my arms up and I could actually feel waves of it washing over me and I could feel a gentle pull guiding my arms upward as I began to speak some lanague I dind't know. My mouth was heavey like it was a chore to speak (I was saying "prise god" and stuff) and so I began to speak the way my mouth wanted to go, and it sounde like some language I'd never heard before. I did say two word I found latter in national geographic as Myian place names.

Also a phenomenon of dizziness. I would feel dizzy and like passing out after praying for some time, and that would be accompanied by a feeling of great exceptional peace, but also like I wash rag that jut got wrung out, no stength left. I would feel like I was flaoting, sometimes like floating over the world.

But all of these things are basically affets on me. I still find it impossible to describe what exactly the thing is that I call "the presence of God." I can say it's a sense of cleaness, like everything around has been scrubed. Sometimes a sense of urgency, or a sense of importance, as though some great and imporatnt visitor is coming. I have a sense of shrinking in signficance and standing before the infinite, before the sublime. That's like when you stand in the desert at night under the stary sky, only even moreso.

Sometimes a sense of "utter dependence." That is the feeling that everying is connected and the whole that is connected is depepndent upon some greater thing that pervades the universe.

I used to get that feeling in my patio at night. I'd sit out under the stars late on a summer night and listen to the traffic on the freeway just a few blocks off, and get a sense of the connection between me, and my garden, my house, my neighborhood, the freeway, the cars, the factors that made the cars, the world as a whole the stary sky, it's all one thing and all created by some higher all pervasive form of being which creates and holds things together.This is what will appear on my blog when it kicks in:

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Besides your comments here, I have received some emails. It is fascinating! Just a few comments for right now...D.P. I wasn't necessarily expecting a Pentecostal perspective. Your comments sound very much like what I experience at the silent retreats...and I find your last line, "Consciousness of God's presence is what happens when I stop doing whatever it is that I think I can do to generate it" very true. I do think we can facillitate the presence of God, or more properly, maybe we are just getting out of the way, but not generate it. That would make God subject to us. Nope, not going to happen.

Ruthie, I can relate to what you say. My experience is similar. I hope to see you soon, and I'll tell you some more about why I am asking this question. Spiritual antennae? What are those? LOL! Some people have ones that are more sensitive, seems to me.

And Meta, I think I will have to tell you something later, but for now, I found this so interesting, and your comments about difficulty separating the presence from the reaction are right on! One person, sensing a strong presence of God, might cry. Another might laugh. Or sense that heaviness that both you and R. describe...or get weak in the knees and sink to the floor, or just sit quietly in an awareness of presence. It isn't God "making" these things happen. At best, they are reactions to, not manifestations of, God's Holy Spirit.