If God is everywhere equally present, then…

He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, St Ignasius, and countless others, past and present, tell us how and where to find God, to hear His directions and desires for our lives.

This morning I was reading Nouwen’s book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In today’s passages he was discussing finding God in the books that we read and in nature.  These venues can be especially helpful, often making it easier for us to hear His voice, see His beauty, feel His presence, taste and savor His many blessings on our lives.

Still, another message hit me as I read. As clearly and as demandingly as if it were flashing in neon atop a tall billboard I was struck by the certainty that:

If God is everywhere equally present, then He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

If God is everywhere equally present, as I believe and have been taught, then, simply being conscious of Him in our midst is the key … and the challenge.

No matter where we are, who we’re with, what is occurring, God is there. Walking down the street, on a treadmill at the gym, on a forest path, along the water, in a line at the grocery store, driving down the road.

To be sure, some places are more conducive to feeling our Lord’s presence, but He’s everywhere, just waiting for us to join Him in His holy purpose. Waiting for us to walk with Him along the way He has planned for us. Waiting for us to acknowledge His presence with us.

No matter the circumstances of our surroundings — whether beautiful, natural, sanctified and holy; or man-made full of industry and technology, metallic maybe, full of cold hard surfaces, filled with loud noisy people of all sizes and shapes; or even places polluted, foul, and rank with the discarded, the misused, the abused — He’s there, waiting for us to beckon to Him, waiting for us to cry out to Him maybe, that Now is the time we need to draw near to Him.

Our first steps toward Him may be shaky and feeble, but as with any new endeavor, practice helps us remember Him more and more often. We will soon learn to call upon and recall those ways and places where we discovered Him earlier. Deep in our hearts we remember the warm blessing of His love as He showered it upon us. We remember (or maybe realize for the first time) that He was with us no matter where we were or what we were doing. We remember over and over again, if we are searching for Him, that He is constantly sending us messages – through the words of people we encounter, the material we read, the sites and sounds that draw our attention. He’s there loving us, waiting to participate in close relationship with us every minute throughout our day.

How did I deserve such goodness, I wonder?

That’s easy. I didn’t. I don’t.

He is simply there for me – for each of us – waiting to bless us, waiting to take each part of us, no matter how broken, or even fetid it may be, and wash it clean. With His blood He prepares and purifies us to be His, so that we may become a blessing to share with others.

7 Steps For Sharing Our Decisions With God

Becky Eldredge over at the dotMagis blog for Ignatian Spirituality wrote a few months back of her experience in deciding between two possible places for her and her husband to move to and make their new home.

For the past year, my husband and I have been discerning our future steps after my husband’s graduate degree was complete. The choice was between relocating to one of two cities. The process of discernment was arduous due to a rather crazy day-to-day rhythm of life, which impacted my ability to find stillness in prayer, and because we felt we were choosing between two goods.

At one point this spring, about eight months into this discernment process, I shared with a friend that I was struggling to find peace about this decision. I told her, “We have learned all we can about both cities. We have prayed about this for months, and I no longer feel pulled strongly to either city. It’s driving me crazy! Why won’t God give me the answer?”

She gently smiled and chuckled and said to me, “Struggling a bit with the grace of detachment?” via The Grace of Detachment.

It reminded me of a time when my family was planning a move, returning to an area of the country my husband grew up in. He had been called for an interview and the organization wanted to fly him and our family half-way across the country to meet people and learn about the community. Our airplane tickets were in the process of being booked!

As potentially exciting as it all sounded and as much as we were both looking forward to hitting the reset button on our lives, I was concerned about several issues, including (top-of-the-list) leaving my mother behind who was at the time in her mid-80’s.

I prayed to God that He give us direction.

“Lord,” I prayed, “this train seems to be moving on a fast track. If this direction is not one that works for You for whatever reason, please give me/us some sign. Let me understand Your plan. In the end help me, Lord, to be certain. Sweep away all other possibilities with the clarity of Your purpose and Your plan for us.”

I remember clearly that I prayed that prayer on a Monday.

That Friday, I was busy working when I received a call from a woman whose home my husband and I had tried to buy a year and half earlier in a nearby community about an hour away. At the time we had done all our research and concluded that the community, its schools, the house…everything…were exactly what we were looking for. Yet, in the flat housing market of that time, nothing was moving and in the end, the deal fell through.

Fast forward and the same woman is calling me out of the blue without the benefit of a realtor to let me know that she was again trying to sell the same home…only now she was asking substantially less than her original price!

Her call caught me at a time when I was completely focused on a project that I was working on. I told her of our plans to move out of state, but said I’d discuss it with my husband and let her know if we had any second thoughts. I thanked her for letting me know, wished her luck and hung up.

I then promptly forgot about her call as I moved to finish my project, get dressed to run errands, pick kids up from school, meet husband, take one of the kids to a sleep-over 40 miles away, have date-night at a nice restaurant…you get the idea.

It wasn’t until we were allowing ourselves a highly unusual shared dessert following dinner that I remembered the phone call. I told my husband about the woman’s offer, describing the details dismissively, with the assumption that he and I had already made up our minds to follow a different course.

After hearing my story he said, “Well, wait a minute. What are we giving up by moving away?”

With just that one short question we were both stopped dead in our tracks. It was as if some mighty hand had just pulled hard on the hand brake of our lives. All of the memories of our earlier desire came flooding back — the community, the schools, the house, the property. And I belatedly remembered my prayer from earlier in the week.

The Lord had heard me and this was His answer. All of our senses from a year before about the perfection of the place were not wrong after all…their timing was just a bit off…or so it seemed.

Over the next couple of hours, we did a full 180. By the end of the weekend we signed a purchase and sale agreement. A month and a half later we moved in to our new home.

I relearned several lessons from this experience.

The first is to Listen to Our Inner Voice — that nagging sense of concern, in my case. It felt like we were already barreling down the road and that the decision was already out of my control.

In a different situation inner stirrings might instead be like a magnet drawing us to a particular outcome. In either case sorting what our inner voice is saying (oft times I have to get my inner voice to quit screaming at me in fear or excitement, just so I can actually hear what it’s saying), allows us to articulate a more focused, detailed prayer to place at God’s feet.

Next, Pray for Direction and Insight with a detached attitude always of wanting only those outcomes that He wants for me, that are part of His plan for me, that are His will. After assembling all the facts of my situation, I prayed that God would allow me to understand them through His eyes and His plan (as it turned out His knowledge and memory of our earlier desire was better than our own) .

After we lift a prayer to God, even as we let it go, trusting in His goodness, we still need to remember to Pay Attention For His Answer. To be conscious over the next several days or weeks of all the possible ways through which He might seek to communicate with us.

In this case I almost missed the message. I need to be more fully present with Him in each conversation or encounter, as I moved through my day (Editor Angel – this is one you seem to need to relearn every few hours!…well, yes, shhh!)

The third lesson is one I’ve experienced multiple times in my life. That is, when I move forward in a decision, even one about which, after much discernment, I feel convicted, I try to Move Forward in Baby Steps.

Without exception in my life, if there are too many obstacles placed in my way toward some objective, it has invariably been a bad idea. And, if I finally achieve my objective after fighting bullheadedly through all the obstacles, it has always been with uncomfortable, sometimes, dire consequences.

If I move slowly and thoughtfully, I am in a better position to Discern Obstacles, to determine if they are just part of a necessary to-do list, or something more important. If necessary, I can more objectively redirect my efforts.

We need to Maintain a Sense of Detachment. As my husband and I moved forward over that first weekend to meet with our seller, take a new look at the house and community, review our earlier assessments against an updated backdrop of alternative opportunities, negotiate and sign papers — as prepared as we were to be surprised and excited — we were also just a little stunned and awed with God’s hand at work in our lives. We were detached and prepared to back away, if insurmountable obstacles began to appear.

We eventually baby-stepped our way through all the throes of what moving entails. As we did we were instead continually amazed at the way obstacles just fell away. Just as we sighted each new challenge on the horizon, it would fade and disappear as we drew nearer. This was when I was finally certain we were on the right path.

All this was nearly 18 years ago. Not once over that time have I questioned our decision. I am instead awestruck and grateful each time I Savor The Joy of Sharing Our Decisions with God. And savoring God’s hand at work, especially when we allow Him to share those big, life-altering decisions, is possibly the sweetest step. It’s one which I like to imagine Him sharing with me, as we sit before a warm fire on a cold winter day, recollecting our good times together.

So, here’s the recap:

  1. Listen to Our Inner Voice
  2. Pray for Direction and Insight
  3. Pay Attention For His Answer
  4. Move Forward in Baby Steps
  5. Discern Obstacles
  6. Maintain a Sense of Detachment
  7. Savor The Joy of Sharing Our Decisions with God.

I have included a couple of links above to the Ignatian Spirituality website at Loyola Press. There are many more resources at the site for understanding how to walk with our Lord.

I would recommend, as well, Fr. James Martin SJ’s humorous, insightful, and highly accessible book, “The Jesuit’s Guide (Almost) Everything.” In it he discusses discernment, and a spirit of detachment, how to pray, how to find God in prayer…it really is a ‘guide to almost everything.’

Have a blessed day.

Meditation 13 – Seeing God in others, seeing good in others

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

I prayed recently that God would help me to see Him in others around me. I don’t know how to do this. And my prayer, while heartfelt, was offered without much real hope of ever ‘getting it’.

And yet, yesterday, I received what I believe is a glimmer of an answer — a clue, at least — of a direction I might follow. What may turn out to be a small miracle in my life.

I reflected on something I’ve known most of my life. It is this:

Those people to whom I have most often been sympathetically drawn seem more ‘worldly,’ an apt word that seems to capture ‘the look.’

It’s in their eyes. The look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” “I’ve been around the block a few times, too.” “This isn’t my first rodeo.” “We have stuff in common, you and I.”

This insight, thought, realization, revelation – I’m not sure what to call it – occurred to me for just the briefest of moments. The significance of ‘the look’ flashed at my consciousness and then, darted off, to hide in my memory. It peaked out a couple of times from behind a long list of errands and interactions, reminding me that it was important, still there, waiting.

But, it’s only by God’s abundant grace have I been able to capture it finally onto paper (well virtual paper, anyway) where I can give it my full attention.

As I describe the experience here, it’s like seeing a bit of trace gold out of the corner of my eye, then slowly following a trail of little gold nuggets to reveal the mother lode, as it were, of the real message.

These other worldly people – seemingly clever, knowing, attractive – can (wittingly or unwittingly) be some of Satan’s most difficult pawns, sent to tempt us and lure us to a life serving him.

To be sure, even the most-worldly individuals are not necessarily bad or evil. Some may have mastered their knowingness, integrating it with a life of faith and service, as I hope I can do someday.

But, Satan works through our perceptions of others’ worldliness to appeal to our own weaknesses. He perceives those disordered desires and then tempts us with promises of outcomes tailor-made for each of us.

In the end it’s our own perspectives that need to change.

I must no longer allow myself to associate what I perceive to be their worldliness with something attractive. This reaction in me needs instead to put me on my guard, raise red flags, signaling for me to don my armor, prepare my defenses. It needs to trigger in me an internal risk assessment of whether to stay and engage in a holy battle or to walk away – either literally or figuratively – at my first opportunity.

[So, WOW…I don’t know about you, but I need to take just a moment to give thanks for this — to give thanks to God for His goodness and direction and His willingness to communicate with me…to answer my prayers…a small miracle in a way. For everything about this insight feels right.  Thank You, Father.]

Let’s read again the meditation for today:

Are you resolved to avoid that occasion of sin, to give up the object which leads you astray – not to read that book, which excites your imagination; to withdraw your friendship from that person who is irreligious, and whose presence disturbs the peace of your soul? Will you go at once and be kind to that companion who annoyed you?

What about those others – those companions, maybe – who annoy us? Those who call us to account, possibly? Or those little or wretched ones who beg for our time or our help or our attention? What about those faithful ones whom Our Father has placed on our path to remind us to walk with Him?

Do their “looks” cause us to avert our eyes in guilt or shame or impatience? Under their gaze do we begin to sense our unworthiness? If we’re truly fortunate, does the light of their spirit illumine the poverty of our own?

In drafting a title for this post, I wrote the words “seeing God in others.” I was quickly moved to the additional phrase, “seeing good in others.”

It made me think about the added “o” in good.

In order to see God in others, we must first have a spirit that appreciates and is attracted to good in others.

And to do this we need to bring to God the extra “o” — a null, a void – the clean slate of our divine selves. Ignatian spirituality describes poverty of spirit as

an emptying of self so that God can fill us with life and love.

As we empty ourselves of our attachments and worldly desires – of those dark ties that will bind and entangle us and cause us to stumble — as we become empty vessels before God, we may then be filled with His goodness. As we grow and become filled with His love, we will in turn be able to recognize and be attracted to His good in all those others about us.


Gracious, glorious Lord. You have once again fulfilled Your promise to answer my prayers and give me those things, which You know will bring me closer to You.

I prayed this prayer without hope of an answer. For this I ask Your forgiveness.

But I prayed in earnest and You answered with clarity.

You are an awesome Lord and I am humbled.

Reflecting God’s Divinity

I’ve tried to find words to express the tremendous tsunami of emotions and joy that I have experienced since reading Fr. Martin’s book “The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything,” earlier last year. Similar to one’s experience of God, I think, my comprehension of its significance has taken — will take — time to fully appreciate. I need to view the experience looking back.

It was like having a large package of tiny seeds strewn upon what (apparently) was the moist and fertile soil of my mind and heart. Only now have I begun to recognize all the young sprouts of new life that are taking root. I fear the possibility that even one of these seeds might be so far-flung that I’ll miss it and fail to tend it properly. At the same time I know the God who blessed me with the grace to receive these messages is the same awesome Lord who will help me discover and tend each seedling in its time, and His.

To say that it has fully changed my life seems too small an expression to capture the full effect it has had. In everything I do now (five months later) I realize I have the responsibility to reflect the divinity of God. I know Him personally, therefore, I have the responsibility to acknowledge Him, learn more about Him, understand what He desires of me, feel and practice His presence constantly, introduce others to him.

I’m not very good at all this yet. I begin to understand why some carry around such a sense of guilt all the time. It’s both an appropriate reaction (because I fail continually throughout the day, practically from the first word out of mouth in the morning) and a beautiful grace from Him who allows me to glimpse a small part of what He desires of me, to perceive just a bit of the perfection He desires for all of us.

I have an especially difficult time seeing Him or feeling His presence in others, even when I actively try to think of Him and look for Him in them. It’s like looking through a steamy window. I can see the vague outline of possibility, but I can’t yet bring it into focus.

Quiet tasks are a bit easier – sometimes when I am alone I can hear Him and feel His presence with me.  My conscience speaks to me of important insights that seem just a bit clearer than they might have before.

One such scene played out for me just today. It had to do with allowing our close relationships to evolve to fully include God.

Take, for example, a relationship between mother and daughter: For the first decade or two, it is very…well…mother-daughter.

Mom loving, directing, soothing, in control, encouraging, disciplining, teaching.

Daughter learning, growing, hopefully becoming the person God intended her to be.

As the third decade emerges, these roles (by the grace of God) begin to shift. The two begin to build a friendship with one another – closer than friends, really, but more a relationship of two adults.

For me and my daughter the next step will be for me to reflect better the deeper sense of God’s divinity that I’ve been given. To accept the responsibility that comes with this gift, to share it with her, maybe most especially, and others who are close.

For some this may be straightforward. But for me it feels as though I’ve somehow turned a corner spiritually and begun to see a whole different world than the one I lived in just a few months ago.

In important ways I’ve become a different person than the mother who raised my daughter. As much as I raised her to know and love God, there are so many areas of my behavior that were still driven by ignorance and carelessness…and therefore, so many areas that require amendment.

This responsibility applies to other family members as well, ones especially from whom I have been estranged.

My stepson and his wife and I all had a falling out that had split our family for several years. The beginnings of healing had already begun when his wife bought the The Jesuit Guide for our son, who in turn bought a copy for my husband to read. My husband, in turn, encouraged me to read it. Soon we were all four sharing our collective amazement with its powerful messages and how they were changing our lives.

The insight of reflecting God’s divinity that pertains here is that God chose these particular people to bring me closer to Him. In so doing He bound us more closely than ever to one another. It has helped to heal old wounds, certainly. But it also created a new and stronger bond, a divine responsibility all around, each of us for another, to recognize and acknowledge how and who God used as a conduits for His message of love.

So, too, do I feel some responsibility to help ignite a new relationship with my husband’s brother and his husband. This is still a work-in-progress, so its shape is not so very clear. But, baby steps have been taken. They had dinner with us recently and we were all, it seemed, surprised and delighted that we were able to laugh and share stories and to genuinely enjoy our time together.

He is outspokenly atheist, but both he and his husband asked our opinion of our new Pope. And they listened respectfully as we discussed our warm feelings for Pope Francis and our deepening faith. It doesn’t seem like much yet, but it’s a start. And it was an answer to my prayers.

I’m willing to follow in baby steps, or maybe even better, get on my knees and crawl, if our Lord will only lead us and put the right words in our mouths.

There’s more learning required, more work to do — “I’m coming, Lord.

But, for now, just a moment to give thanks for the wonderful grace of being aware of His lessons and blessings so far.

Thank you Lord.

Meditation 9 – What we ask in faith, God provides

Do you dread something painful? Is there in your soul a vague fear, which seems unreasonable, and yet torments you? Trust fully in My providence. I am here, I see everything; I will not leave you.

I’m such a weenie! I’m still concerned about that dinner party. It’s tomorrow night and it has me losing sleep worrying about silly stuff. Have I put out new hand towels in the guest bath? Did I remember to get new candles? I need mercy from my own silly self! There must be something more worthy in my world to be concerned about than having dinner with an atheist family member?

[Well, and it’s much less him and his belief or non-belief. I’m probably more concerned about my behavior. My words and actions. Is it possible that relaxing some might produce better results? Or that I should be more concerned about his soul than my words? But they might be connected, right? (Editor Angel – Lord, can I come home now?)]

Also, my personal thanks to W. Ockham over at Teilhard de Chardin for this post on our discussions with atheists.]

Still, our gracious Lord, asks that we bring Him even our little worries, so that our faith will be bolstered each time we see His hand at work in our lives. I’m looking forward to a having a wonderful miracle to report soon!

Here are a few more of today’s musings…in no particular order:

I try to say a little prayer each morning for our grown children that they will have a safe commute to and from their work. My daughter reported that she was almost run over as she was crossing in a fully lit crosswalk earlier this week. The driver was looking directly at her as he sped through. Later in the same dark walk to her off-site parking, she was concerned about a man who was lurking around the parking lot. I try to think of these occurrences not so much as evil and harm lurking about, but as God’s loving protection surrounding us everywhere.

I worry that our grandson’s parents have not yet had him baptized. I pray the Lord watch over him, understand his innocence, and regardless of his formal baptism, call him to be His own. I worry, too, that I might have some active role to play in this. If I do, it has not yet been made clear to me. So I pray for guidance.

I worry that I don’t understand why so many of the saints sought out suffering and pain in an attempt to feel closer to Jesus, to share in His suffering. I understand a bit better others who do not pray for relief from suffering, but rather ask for strength sufficient to endure the suffering given them.

I worry about how to respond to street people who ask for money. Police and retail owners caution against giving them money, saying these intended acts of kindness only encourage more aggressive and, in some cases, more threatening behavior. How does one discern the difference between a truly needy person and a healthy person preying cynically on the good intentions of the rest of us?

We have a friend who carries a pocket full of coins and small bills in order to give a little something to others each week. If we don’t carry around a bit of cash, won’t we too often end up missing an opportunity to help someone in need when God touches our hearts?

We can always lift our fears and worry up to God. And relief is directly related to our level of faith in Him, in His greatness, in His judgment of what’s good for us and those we love.

This lesson was most potently demonstrated for me over time as our children were learning to drive and taking the car out by themselves for the first time. As they were leaving for their first date. As they ventured out on their own lives, insisting, right or wrong, to make their own decisions. No longer could I be with them 24/7; no longer was I in full control.

But, with some situation presenting itself on a near-daily basis there for a while, I got lots of opportunities to practice, and as my prayers were answered, small and large, and as I learned to pay attention, to be conscious of His answers to my prayers, my faith grew. Through it all He’s taught me that my relief can be nearly immediate. I ask; God provides.

The question is not how great God is. The key is the strength of my faith in Him.

Discerning Advent

I have just recently discovered this webblog and want to pass it along. The Ignatian steps in discernment are especially helpful in making important decisions. Blogger Andy Otto lists these exercises for discerning the best path:

  • Logical: Draw up a list of pros and cons for each choice and see which one seems to make more sense logically.

  • Imagine: Place yourself before God or Jesus and tell him you’ve made one decision over the other. How does he react? What does he say? Separately, do the same with the other choice.

  • Gut: Picture yourself committing to one decision. What feelings arise? Make a note of these and then do the same with the other choice.

  • Pretend: Try living with one of the choices for a few days, as if you’ve really committed to it mentally. Note in a journal how it was. Then go another few days as if you’ve committed to the other choice.

I have tried each of these at one time or another and can attest to their effectiveness. There’s only one additional step I often take in making important decisions. Since I often feel ambivalence in many of my most important decisions, I try always to pray a prayer that goes something like this:

‘Heavenly Father, I know that You love  me and want only those things for me that are good and that bring me closer to You. Please take the outcome of this current situation (and I name it) into Your care. If it is good and a path that You will bless, please give me certainty and confidence in Your will. If it is not a way You would choose for me at this time, please sweep away all possibility of its happening so that I will have no lingering doubt or care.

I love you, Father, and want only to do You will. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.’

God In All Things

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
(Luke 1:28)

We know God desires to shine a light into our world and into our hearts. There’s hope, somewhere. Through the darkness a light begins to shine. Thomas Merton describes this glimmer of hope:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by…

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