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?