Meditation for Monday January 6, 2020

“I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8.

The Psalmist declares that God is with him. God is with us. How is he with us? We want to know he is with us in the most tangible ways possible. In the midst of the delights and distractions of Advent we revisit the narrative and images of the nativity – Immanuel, God with us, a baby born. In the light of his identity, that’s about as tangible as it gets.  It’s such a blessing to experience the seasonal rhythm of savoring this. And yet two millennia later we walk by faith. Jesus told his disciples that it was to their  advantage that he leave them physically so that he could send the Holy Spirit to them (John 16:7). Jesus’ parting words to his disciple were: “And be sure of this, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 30:20).

As contemplatives, we affirm that in spite of God’s revelation of himself – in creation, Scripture, the incarnation – we ultimately come to him as before a mystery. By his grace he has unveiled some of these mysteries: “The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints…; the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27). In prayer we approach the mystery of God receptively and hopefully. What, by sheer grace, might he reveal to us that we didn’t apprehend before?

God being with us is a category of mystery that continually invites such an approach. Just as we realize that God himself is a mystery, so we may also be assured that he is with us continually and lovingly in ways that we can’t imagine. The practice of prayer breathes newness and vitality into stale habits of thought that we may have about a reality too wonderful for words – God with us. To open ourselves to God is most basically to open ourselves to his presence.

And in spite of our use of the word mystery, it doesn’t have to be complicated. The refrain of St. Patrick’s famous prayer employs the most humble language:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

The simplicity and truth of these words convey an almost sacramental power. They depict what the Celtic Christians called “calm” or the “encircling.” They would imagine or even make a circle around themselves with their finger or a stick, signifying God’s protective presence. (The Psalmist at least starts the circle, the Lord before him and beside him, at his right hand!) The critical thing always in apprehending the presence of God is to know that like his love, it’s unconditional. We can’t lose God or escape his presence. The psalmists’ “I will not be shaken” anticipates some turbulence, and so always may we. In Psalm 139 the psalmist realizes that there are no spatial conditions in which God is not present (vs 9, 10). We also sin, fail and find creative ways to bring trouble on ourselves. Like Peter and many others we feel unworthy and disqualified from being in God’s presence. He not only remains with us, but continues to work in ways far beyond us toward the restoration of which St. Patrick speaks.

On his departing Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit in his place. At the start of a new year we say: “Come Holy Spirit.” He has been given to us in order that we may “understand what God has freely given us” (2 Corinthians 2:12). As at Advent, so too in each new day, the most precious thing he gives to us is his presence. We desire to know it in ever greater ways.

Imago Dei Christian Communities
Paul Woodyard

For Reflection and Prayer:
1. What are the circumstances and settings in which you seem to experience God’s presence most readily?

2. In what situations do you find it difficult to know God’s presence?

3. Can you recall a time when you’ve experienced an awakening or shift within that brought a fresh sense of the presence of God?

The following is a simple prayer exercise from “The Cry of the Deer,” a Commentary on the Hymn of St. Patrick by David Adam. As you are led you may substitute words- Your Presence is in _______; my car; my bedroom as I go to sleep; … You may also substitute whatever grace you seek from God for the word “Peace”; Your Presence is love, joy, strength.

Your Presence is in my life
Your Presence is all around me
Your Presence is Peace.

Your Presence is in my house
Your Presence is all around me
Your Presence is Peace.

Your Presence is in my work
Your Presence is all around me
Your Presence is Peace.