God’s presence in the world

Advent 3 2011

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Marian Free

 

In the name of God, whose presence is known to us in many and varied ways. Amen.

 Some time ago I was fortunate to be able to do the Ignatian Retreat in everyday life. It was an experience that I can highly recommend, but which is too complex to explain now. One of the practices that I continue to use is called The Awareness Examen or the Examen of Consciousness (not conscience). The Examen is a prayer which takes the form of a review of the day. As you might imagine, it is a particular kind of review, one that is intended to help the practitioner become more aware of God’s presence and grace in every aspect of their day.

There are five steps to this prayer.  The first is to give thanks for all the gifts tor graces that God has provided during the day. This might be as simple as giving thanks for the smile of a child that brightened up the day, or as profound as giving thanks for the restoration of health after an illness. As well as giving thanks for the events of the day, this practice always includes giving thanks for the constant presence of God as a friend and companion.  In the second step, the practitioner asks the Holy Spirit to help them to see themselves more clearly and to discern God’s working in their life. This stage leads naturally into a review of one’s own behaviour and attitudes – stage three. At the end of each day a practitioner looks back over the day – all the activities engaged in and all the people met. Perhaps the most confronting part of the prayer, this step demands that the practitioners be honest with themselves by asking: Have I been selfish or angry or have I consistently behaved with love and understanding towards others? In other words, have I behaved as someone created in the image of God?

 Step four is the response to this personal review. It might involve repentance and a determination to live tomorrow in a way that is less selfish and more caring, but there is also room for joy and gratitude in the recognition of the presence of God in acts of generosity, grace and courage. The review of the day concludes with a decision to live tomorrow differently,  to be more Christ-like, to recognise and to endeavour to share with others the presence of God.

 There are a number of advantages of this form of prayer – one is that it is realistic, but not judgemental. It grounds one in the present reality and at the same time encourages growth and development. Above all, the Awareness Examen helps us to identify the presence of God in every aspect of daily life, to recognise that we belong in God as God belongs in us.

 This can be a very helpful exercise because our ability to see God in our day-to-day lives is often compromised by other agendas, by self-centredness, by an introspection which is focussed on the self and not the divine, by expectations of God that are unrealistic or by an unwillingness to take responsibility for our own actions.  For example, too often we take credit for what we have achieved but blame God for those things we were unable to achieve, or we take responsibility for all that is good in the world, and make God responsible for all that is bad in the world. At the same time our ability to see the presence of God in our lives can be due to the fact that our vision is distorted by false images and unreal expectations of God. While it is easy to see God in events that are miraculous and astounding it is possible to continue to overlook the everyday miracles of God’s grace.  Those who see God as some sort of supernatural puppeteer or judge in the heavens, cannot always see God in the moments of peace and beauty in their lives.

 Such false perceptions can blind people to the true nature of God, to God’s presence among us and, just as importantly, to God’s presence in us. The reports of the New Testament miracles and the vivid and sometimes frightening depictions of the second coming and of judgement can have the effect of clouding our sight and dulling our memories. It is possible to allow ourselves to become so absorbed by such powerful images that we forget that God has already come and that through Jesus’ resurrection and the Holy Spirit God remains with us and in us.

 God in Jesus needed no fanfare to draw attention to his entering the world. Jesus’ birth wasn’t announced to the whole world but only to some shepherds who happened to be nearby. His birth wasn’t noticed by the educated and knowledgeable, but only by some magi from the East. During Jesus’ life there was not a great deal to set him apart from others. He gave no displays of power and might. Jesus didn’t impose his authority on any not did he seek attention or notoriety. Instead Jesus spent most of his ministry in the countryside and rather than seeking to rule over his disciples, he demonstrated a willingness to serve. He did not keep his gifts and ministry to himself, but shared them liberally with those who followed him. In fact, Jesus was so unlike anything that had been expected and so like those around him that many failed to recognise him.

 There is a lesson for us here. In trying to identify the presence of God in our lives, we must learn to look in the right places – to take our gaze from the sky and bring our attention to the world around us, to stop expecting God only in the extraordinary so expect God in our ordinary, everyday experiences, to stop willing God to judge and to understand that God seeks justice for all. We must learn too that the presence of God in the world is dependent on us, on our actions, on our ability to demonstrate God’s love and compassion and on our willingness to create a world of justice and peace.  

 John the Baptist announced the coming of the light into the world, but it seems there were few who were willing to open their eyes and minds to something so radically different from what they had expected.  The situation today is much the same – God’s presence is in and around us in the most surprising and unexpected ways – yet very often we fail to see or recognise it because we are looking for something different.

In order to make God a central part of our daily life, we must learn to recognise God in the quiet and unexpected moments of grace, to see God in the cradle and on the cross and to understand that it is in God’s self-giving- moment by moment – and in our participation in the Divine, that God will be known and continue to be the light that has come into the world.

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