Odd, isn’t it, how sometimes we feel ourselves to be blessed, graced, and filled with the awareness of the presence and love of God, and sometimes – not?
I suppose that actually, rather than just two settings – graced, and bereft – there is a whole spectrum, ranging from awash in the life-giving warmth of God’s love and blessing, all the way over to dry, desolate, and alone in the universe. On that spectrum, most of us, most of the time, would find ourselves somewhere toward the middle – somewhat aware of God, Who is sometimes manifest to us, and somehow both present and removed.
With no warning and without definite reason, lately I have been over toward the happy end of that scale. After the rotten year we have all been through, I am almost startled to find myself there. Reflection brought me to two conclusions.
First, largely because of pastoral and professional obligation, I pray regularly, whether I am feeling the warmth or not. I pray alone in church, and in the midst of and on behalf of the sacred assembly. I offer Mass daily, entering this supreme prayer of the Church usually with a congregation, but sometimes without. I know well (in my head at least) that a feeling of God’s attention and blessing is not the definitive indicator of his attention and involvement. He is there whether I feel it or not – rather like a radio transmitter that is always broadcasting, but to a receiver (me) that is unreliable.
Second, I am aware of and subject to the temptation to think that those experiences of feeling God’s presence and attention are the best indicators of when and where God is actually engaged with me and my daily portion of pleases, thank-yous, and oh-by-the-ways.
More than our forebears in the faith, I think, we are all subject to this second attitude, because we have been so conditioned by the prodigious array of entertainments that entice and engage us. Video, audio, virtual, and interactive “feeds” are always flowing toward us. Even what little reading any of us actually still does is likely to be aimed at stirring up sensations and feelings within us. One of the ways we judge whether these things are worth our time and money is how and whether they cheered us, made us sad, or frightened us. The thrill of being thrilled is addictive.
But if we engage our reason and think past that sensation, we are capable of recognizing that these experiences are based not on truth, but artifice. Our feelings are unreliable indicators of reality in this range of our experience; they are all the more unreliable in our spiritual experiences of prayer.
God is unchanged and unchanging, and His love and care for us do not change any more than His location or His knowledge. The vicissitudes in our spiritual sensations and experience, the warmth or chill of our prayer, is not an indication of the Divine Reality; at best it indicates something about us. This simple understanding can and should motivate us to persist in our prayerful relationship with the Lord – to keep “showing up,” if you will, despite disappointing sensory “results.”
This is the substance of our participation in our own growth in grace. And rather than attributing any changeability or even fickleness to God, this is the way to inject into our lives the change that we all crave. Christ’s peace be to all of you!