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Michael Jensen

Discerning God's Presence

Many years ago when I was a newly ordained priest, I gave a presentation during Advent entitled “Finding and Experiencing God’s Presence in Our Busy World.” It was not a resounding success. I was too young, and too soon out of the seminary to understand that the set schedule of the seminary did not transfer well into a parish setting. The things I suggested, while working well in a seminary or monastic setting, weren’t easy to implement in a home environment where commotion and chaos were more often the norm. This was made very clear to me when an individual came up to me after the presentation and suggested, only half in jest, that before I offered the presentation again, perhaps I needed do more practical research by spending some time at their house.

I suspect for all of us there are times when it is difficult to find and experience God’s presence in our busy world. There are probably also times when God seems more absent than present in our busy lives. At these times, we may feel like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb who said: “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid him.” (Jn. 20:13) If we are honest, I think that for all of us there are times when God’s presence is more elusive than actual. We should not be discouraged or dismayed by this. I say this for two reasons.   

First, we need to remember that God has given us the wonderful gift of free choice. If it were always easily to find and/or feel God’s presence, it would not be our free choice to try to discern God’s presence. God is the “mysterium tremendum et fascinans”—the mystery tremendous and fascinating. If God’s presence were always evident and accessible we would have no choice but to continually worship and praise God. God wants us to freely choose God, though, so God “veils” God’s presence in common and ordinary things, and then gives us glimpses of God’s presence so that will be encouraged to continue to look for God.  

Second, though, I think there is something in our human nature that is fascinated with what we can experience and apprehend, but that we cannot completely grasp or understand. Certainly at times this can be discouraging, but more importantly, it also can spur on our efforts and keep us engaged in the effort to understand that which eludes our grasp. I wonder if another reason God doesn’t reveal God’s presence in clear and evident ways is that this is God’s way of encouraging us to stay with our efforts to find and feel God’s presence.    

Discerning God’s presence is an ongoing, life long activity. And we won’t know it fully and forever this side of heaven. At times, the effort to find and experience God’s presence can be frustrating. Those who have experienced God’s grace filled presence, however, know that effort is certainly worth it. 

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