In The Presence of God

presence of God richard rohrI often say that I find God in the wilderness.  Especially on a ledge overlooking mountain peaks, I can vouch that I find the presence of God there amidst the wind rustling the leaves like a subtle voice whispering my name.  The sound of the waves lapping the shore or the way snow falls softly upon bare branches without a soul in sight except my own basking in the luminescence of the divine.

While I’m not necessarily wrong about going to these places that I find sacred to find God, I realized that I wasn’t completely right either.  Instead of going there because that was the only place that God resided, it is instead that the environment gives me the serenity to be aware of the presence of God that was always there.  This is somehow comforting to me to know that God is there even when the background noise is too loud for me to notice.

Thomas Merton knew plenty of silence in his life at Gethsemani Abbey in the Kentucky wilderness.  That solace must have awoken his soul to a presence within that brought great comfort even amidst the background noise he experienced on his trips.  He noted also, however, that the silence was also disturbing:

There is a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: it can’t be spoken.  It has to remain silent.  To articulate it, to verbalize it, is to tamper with it, and in some way to destroy it.

Within that disturbing silence is God.  It is as Elijah experienced in 1 Kings 19 after he went up Mt. Horeb looking for God.  He experienced every natural disaster and still didn’t find God in the power of nature’s forces even in a large earthquake until, “after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was still not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”  There it was in the sheer sound of nothingness that he encountered the presence of God – not on the mountaintop, but already there within his own soul.

Silence is something that we don’t get enough of.  We feel obligated to constantly be doing something.  We judge ourselves to be ineffective if we aren’t keeping ourselves busy with work or helping others.  We seek out books and go on pilgrimages to find God and get discouraged when we “still haven’t found what [we’re] looking for.”  There is a glimpse of something beyond our comprehension that dwells within the realm of mystery, but we can’t quite put our finger on it.  And then finally, if we are lucky enough to stumble upon it or make sense of the mystery while not making any sense of it, we find out that we were trying to do the impossible.  We were never “able to attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God.”  All we were missing was the awareness.

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