Engaging the Presence
“You can find God in everything and miss Him in anything. In everything, God has a voice.” (Ken Helser) God has hidden Himself in every small detail of your life. Yes, His longing for us is so deep, God has hidden Himself inside the simplicity of the way you make your morning coffee. In everything, He is speaking.’ Lindsay Armistead, Cultivate Volume II by Cageless Birds
I have frequently reflected over this past strange and difficult year on how quick I am to say that God is being “silent” or feels “hidden.” And I am slowly realising that more often than not, it is not God who needs to speak or reveal himself, but it is me who needs to embrace new ways of hearing and seeing.
I have always loved the lines in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘Aurora Leigh’, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes”. But perhaps I am only now beginning to grasp what it truly means.
I was struck recently by these words in Pete Greig’s book God On Mute:
“Lunch on that Sabbath, straight after synagogue, would have begun as it always did with a blessing spoken out… over the bread and wine that were to be served with the meal. If any of the remaining eleven disciples were capable of eating that day, the grace spoken before lunch on Holy Saturday would have stabbed their hearts with remembrance of that Last Supper with Jesus…
Sometimes, when God is silent, our hearts are breaking and our prayers lie unanswered, there can still be signs: faint flickers of hope and meaning expressed to us and for us in Scripture, in fellowship, and especially in the bread and wine.”
Bread and wine – two such ordinary aspects of our daily lives. Yet within their ordinariness lies hope – if we have the eyes to see it.
When my mum lay dying and I spent the majority of my days and nights by her side, my childhood bestie came and sat with me. She did not try to give me answers or even comfort really. She was just with me. Then as an animal lover, one of my greatest sources of comfort during that time was my dad’s fat, lazy but utterly lovely cat. Those days after my mum had passed, Chubbers would come into my room at night, not demanding anything, but just curl up beside me like he knew I needed presence.
The friends who brought me the most comfort in that time were the ones who didn’t try to give me answers but simply gave me their presence.
And God was also silent. He gave no answers. But He was there. I felt His peace enveloping me, His strength and grace carrying me. He met me in the dark forests surrounding my dad’s house. He met me in the sunsets as I would drive from my mum’s hospice room back home. He met me in a fat, furry, purring creature. This may sound heretical, but it was like God knew that even He had no answers that would truly ease the pain in my heart.
In that following spring, I remember feeling shocked, in the midst of my continuing journey through the dark valley of grief, at the sudden bright yellow of happy daffodils and cheerful orchestra of birdsong. At first I almost resented it. I felt so out of sync with it. Then I saw and heard the “flickers of hope” in it and I recognised that in the midst of my numbness and struggle to hear and see God like I had been used to, here He was with me in the yellow daffodil and unwavering birdsong – signs of life and hope.
I am still learning to embrace new ways of hearing and seeing Him. Several lockdowns have been instrumental in training me to discover Him more in the ordinary and everyday of life.
I was having a good cry while on a walk the other day. There have been some unhealed areas within me because of not fully grieving loss in the past and God and my counsellor have been gently unearthing these places so that I may live in deeper freedom. This walk was part of that and it felt as dark as it did in years past and I again felt that old familiar inability to see or hear God in the midst of the pain. Drying my tears after a while, I walked on and then out of nowhere, a beautiful greyhound comes running after me, much to her owner’s protest. She runs right up to me and leans against me, almost hugging me. Her owner is hugely embarrassed, spluttering, “she never does this, don’t know what got into her, so sorry.” And all the while, I am smiling. Because I know what got into her. The presence of God. The One who knows me better than anyone, who knows my deep love for and connection with the animal kingdom, met me in the way He knew I most needed in that moment. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning would say, it was a holy moment and internally, I removed my shoes.