An articulate, deeply spiritual young man asked me the other day where and when I experience God. For him, his clearest experience of God occurs when he writes poetry.
I’ve written here at various times of different experiences I’ve had of God. They all tend to have a theme of either creativity or of nature. What struck me as I reflected on this man’s question was also where I DON’T experience God.
I realized that I rarely experience God in churches. I’ve been to some beautiful ones yet if God was in those places I did not know it. Yet I remember one encounter with God as I left a church. It was Christmas Eve and I had just finished serving Mass at a convent for elderly nuns. During the two hours of the service, it had snowed heavily. When my friend and I came out, a soccer field across from the convent was carpeted in snow and had been untouched by human feet. God was there.
I also have not found God in the Bible. I have read it three times and will continue to read it. Through the Bible, I see different persons’ efforts to encounter God and I find that helpful. But I echo Abraham Joshua Heschel, who once wrote that the Bible isn’t a book about God. It is a book about Man’s and Woman’s search for God.
I have not had any stunning experiences of God such as the one experienced by Bill W. as he lay in a hospital recovering from alcoholism. No bright lights. I wish there were. But I take comfort in where Elijah found God: “…a mighty windstorm hit the mountain…but the Lord was not there. After the wind there was an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” In that whisper, Elijah encounters God.
Clearly God is present in creativity. The God of my understanding didn’t stop creating after seven days, just as Teilhard de Chardin has pointed out. He/She is there in works of artistic creation as well as in the evidence all about me in nature. He/She is even there when I attempt something creative.
I have had hints of God through other people — my wife’s lovingkindness, the laughing faces of my grandchildren, watching baseball with my sons or listening to my daughter play her French horn. The peace and love I feel in those moments is clearly of God.
Yet I also see that I may miss other opportunities to encounter God. Because I am distracted or burned out, I may miss God in the beautiful El Paso sunset. Because I am an introvert, I may miss God speaking to me through others or simply manifesting His/Her presence in the efforts of someone trying to heal through conversation with me. Like many of us, I get a lot of noise in my head, forgetting God’s suggestion: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I see, too, that I may not find God where you do and vice versa. Some people do find God at churches or synagogues. Some people do find God in sacred writings. Some people do find God through deep meditation. Similarly, not everyone hears God as I do in Holst’s Jupiter from The Planets or hear His/Her voice in the words of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Neither of us is right or wrong. It just helps for me to know where I need to look.
Reflection: 1. Where do you most often encounter the God of your understanding?
Had this question been put to me two years ago or even a year ago, I would probably have said that I find God in the sunset or the mountains. Indeed I do find God there, but more recently I have found God in the connection I have developed over the past six months with a homeless man and his dog. As my friend Adam Bucko, who works with homeless youth in New York City says, “Where is God? He is here on this street, lying naked in the gutter. He is here on this street homeless. He is here on this street, in all the lonely and unwanted, waiting for our love.” Chris Martin of Cold Play has given us a gorgeous piece of music, “A Sky Full of Stars,” which these days I associate with all of those beings whom most of the world assumes are as far from God as we could imagine. And yet, Cold Play sings, “In a sky full of stars, I think I saw you.” If you haven’t listened and heard the lyrics with the beautiful music, by all means do it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRIbz8Kf1aE
Thank you for the thoughtful story and questions. For most of my adult life, God may have been present, but I was too self-absorbed to look for Him. It took some very profound experiences when I finally opened my eyes to see His presence. Specific experiences include sunsets and sunrises over the lake at a Jesuit retreat center, holding my two children for the first time, seeing strong emotion (joy, sorrow or pain) in my children’s eyes, walking in our woods underneath a full moon and fresh fallen snow. I have also experienced God’s presence in those around me: a former prisoner due to a violent crime turned urban minister or a kind counsellor who used combined the wisdom of C.G. Jung and Hindu and Christian archetypes to help my psyche heal from self-inflicted traumas.
I am still fairly new to having an adult relationship with God, but it is a wonderful journey.
I experienced God in the beautiful El Paso skies since I was a very young child – in the sunrises and sunsets in those beautiful skies. Now I see Him in the beautiful Nashville,Tn skies – in the lakes and woods, the deer that cross my path as I drive to see my grandchildren. I see and experience my Lord In my children and now my grandchildren. I see Him in the homeless who stand begging by my church and I hand them whatever I have on me. I especially experienced Him when I met young man almost 41 years ago and was blessed to have him as my husband for 27 years.
The God-Nature connection is a deep one in my experience. Recently one of “my” vets told me he was angry that his landlord cut down a beautiful tree next to the room he rents in the house, leaving only a stump. The tree, he said, was beautiful and provided shade for his room. He said that he thought the landlord was trying to prove his power in the relationship and I told him that some people simply do not value nature. He said that nature had “saved” him since the time he was a child and ran away to spend his days in the woods until he became a man who vented his anger in the surf and swam with sharks “because the ocean can handle my anger”. Nature saves some of us which is a sign that God is in it.
Richard..i experience god other the great creating universe in your presence your site here and through the experiences from folks who comment here. And just the spirit of these communications reminds me of other. Susan b