Living in the presence of God        (E.J.Tyler)

1. Living with little thought of God   

One of the constant ideals of the human person and of human society is that of work. He instinctively aspires to work and to work well. Man understands that work is at the centre of human living and that without work, or in working poorly, his life and the life of society will be impoverished. However, if we consider modern man and modern society, work is something he tends to do relying on his own strength without reference to God. Not only is this the case with  his work, but it is the case with most of what makes up his daily life. He lives and works without God, and away from the thought of God. But what is the actual reality? The actual reality is that we live in the presence of God, for in him we live and move and have our being.

2.  The sense of God’s presence   

Every day we see those with whom we live or are in constant contact with, and their visible presence enables us very easily to take them constantly into account. But we do not see God and so it is not hard to be quite unaware that God is present, and this is the situation of countless numbers of people. They are simply not aware that God is present and so they never think of him whereas they are thinking every day of those whom they see or are in physical contact with. In fact, many think that precisely because one cannot see God or have any contact with him by means of our senses, he cannot be said with certainty to exist. They think that the only test of the reality of something is if its reality can be demonstrated empirically. So then, to avoid being affected by the tendency of our materialistic culture to ignore God, we ought make a point of thinking of those things which constitute a clear evidence of his presence and activity. The evidence is, paradoxically, what we see around us, the material world.

3. Signs of God’s presence  

We ought consider the world around us in the light of what it itself suggests about the source of its own existence. There are many basic features of the world that can remind us of its constant dependence on God. There is its obvious contingency - it need not exist and yet it does exist. There is its pervasive order, its constant change and its being subject to constant causation, together with our own natural sense of being subject to a moral law and vaguely to a moral lawgiver and judge. These various features of the natural world can help nourish our sense of our unceasing dependence on God and therefore of God’s presence with us. But more than anything, the testimony of God’s own revelation about creation as transmitted by the Church throws the light on the world around us that can sustain this sense of God being constantly present. St Paul’s words to the Greeks that in God we live and move and have our being express very precisely the Church’s teaching and testimony. All things are in the hands of God and all things continually come from his sustaining and creative hand. Everything we see and experience is the constant gift of God, the evidence of his creative presence within and around us. The entire universe is being sustained moment by moment by his creative and loving will. God is everywhere, and everything is present to him. We therefore are constantly in the presence of God, and the world around us and our own personal existence if viewed in the light of what God has revealed, ought reinforce our sense of the presence of God.

4. God the Creator   

So then, let us get into the habit of looking on the things around us for what they are, gifts continually being given by the creator God who is present to them. God is intimately present by his creative action to all that he holds in existence, including us. A parallel may be seen in our own actions. We are present to what we are doing. If we are engaged in some work, such as helping someone or engaged in some service we must perform, we are present to that work or that service. God too is present in his work of creation, and that creation is not just an initial event which sets off the existence and life of the thing which he has initiated. All things depend constantly on the creative action of God and were God to withdraw or interrupt his creative activity from something, that thing would cease to be. So God is present and active in everything that exists, including and especially ourselves. Everything about us, everything making up any particular being - and there is so much that we do not know about things, including ourselves - God knows and is present to for he is sustaining it in being. Indeed, this is one of the terrible things about sin. When we sin we are in a sense drawing God into intimate proximity with sin because he is sustaining us in our sinful choices and activity. The all-holy God hates the sin we are committing while lovingly giving us our being. He sustains us because he loves us, and in sustaining us he is intimately present to every element of our being and all our freely chosen activity. When we sin he is intimately present to all that he hates because of his creative activity. We ought remember this when we think of the ways modern science is experimenting with the beginnings of human life, and bringing life into being precisely in order to experiment on it.

5. The indwelling Trinity 

God is constantly present to us not only as our creator, but as the Trinity who by the redemptive activity of Christ has drawn us into his triune life. Provided we are in the state of grace and free of mortal sin, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell within our souls as in a temple. We are temples of the most high God. By our baptism the power of original sin is broken and we are granted a share in the life of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us and grant us a share in his grace and life, and with the Holy Spirit come the Father and the Son. They dwell within the soul of the baptized faithful in the state of grace. This gift of the indwelling Trinity is an aspect of our being transformed into the likeness of Christ by baptism and the sacraments. But again, we do not physically see this nor do we normally experience it and so we tend to completely ignore it. We know it is a fact, though, because God has revealed it and this revelation reaches us through the testimony and teaching of the Church. We do not know this tremendous doctrine of the divine indwelling as a result of natural reflection - as we can know by reflection and reason that God is our creator - but simply from what God has revealed. The important thing, though, is that we live in the light of it. If God the holy Trinity continually dwells within us provided we are in the state of grace, then we ought always be in the state of grace, and we ought live out our days with a lively sense of the presence of God within us. We ought not forget it and live in disregard of it which is what most people do, and which is what perhaps we normally do. We have to exercise our faith, and remember what our Lord has told us and what the Church teaches us. God the holy Trinity is continually present within us, so we ought live continually in the thought of God’s indwelling presence. Living in his presence will aid us in seeking holiness.

6. Living in God’s presence   

So then, God is very much present to us constantly. He is present far more than we are to ourselves. This is the reality and the vast majority of persons do not live in this reality. They do not know of it, they do not remember it, and why? Largely because they do not physically see it. But we know it. It has been revealed to us by God and some aspects of it are supported by our own reflection. The problem is that being out of sight it is usually out of mind. We forget, and very often we do not realize it, and not realizing it we do not live in the light of it. We do not realize that all that we are and all that we do is played out in the constant presence of God, under his constant gaze. Inasmuch as we depend on God for literally everything we are and all that we do, we ought live our lives and do all we do with his presence before us. We must make the effort to remember that we are constantly before the gaze of God our creator and redeemer.  That is the realistic thing to be doing because it is the fundamental reality of life.

7. The practice of the presence of God  

Prior to and together with our exerting a persevering effort to remember the presence of God and to live in the light of his presence, we need to be drawing on the help of God’s grace to ensure this union with him is maintained. We can only be united to God by the power of his grace, and this grace comes to us constantly in the Sacraments. If we do not obtain the grace of God and ensure we are living in the state of grace our own  efforts to live in the presence of God will be to no avail. Living in the presence of God means living in union with him, just as our Lord lived in the presence of his heavenly Father and was constantly united to him. God’s grace is the share we have of God’s life and the action of his life in our souls. It unites us to God, and enables us to live in union with him. 

8. God is present to us as a loving Father  

Consider the words of St Josemaria Escriva in his famous little book, The Way. He writes: “We’ve got to be convinced that God is always near us. We live as though he were far away, in the heavens high above, and we forget that he is also continually by our side. He is there like a loving Father. He loves each one of us more than all  the mothers in the world can love their children - helping us, inspiring us, blessing..and forgiving. How often we have misbehaved and then cleared the frowns from our parents’ brows, telling them: I won’t do it any more! - That same day, perhaps, we fall again ... - And our father, with feigned harshness in his voice and serious face, reprimands us, while in his heart he is moved, realizing our weakness and thinking: poor child, how hard he tries to behave well! We’ve got to be filled, to be imbued with the idea that our Father, and very much our Father, is God who is both near us and in heaven.”

  The number fathers who would fit St Josemaria’s description of the father of that child may not be great, but St Josemaria is trying to help us appreciate that God is the best of possible fathers. His point is that wherever that description of a father of a child is exemplified in ordinary life, there we have a picture of what our heavenly Father is like, only far, far more so. Now, the challenge of the Christian life is to learn to live in the presence of God we know to be our Father.

9. The means of living in the presence of God our Father  

For this to happen we shall have to adopt a variety of practices which will help us remember the presence of God and make it the great reality of our daily life.  Essentially it is a matter of finding ways to live a real life, a life aware of and in communion with the great reality of the one and triune God our creator and redeemer. God is within me and around me, the God who is one in being and three in persons. This is the reality in which I live. I am a creature of God moment by moment depending on him for my entire being, and entirely dependent on him for all my prospects of redemption and union with him. Were it not for his redeeming work I would be sunk in my sins and be doomed to spiritual and physical death. But now I can live moment by moment in his grace as his child, with the Blessed Trinity constantly abiding within me. These are the realities of my existence and my life, and I need to find concrete ways of living fully alert to this reality and in constant communion with it, making it affect every aspect of my life. If I do not, I will fail to live in a realistic way.

    So then, we ought offer frequent brief aspirations, brief words of prayer, acts of love and spiritual communion with Jesus in the Tabernacle, glances at pictures of our Lady or the saints. Especially important ought be our response to our Lord in the Tabernacle. A very good practice is as soon as we rise in the morning to think of our Lord in the Tabernacle of our parish church, and to ask him to come spiritually into our soul. Then often to do this during the day, and especially if we happen to pass a church or have the opportunity to go inside it. It is a good practice to pin our raising of the mind and heart to God who is present to certain things that we know will always happen. An example might be when we get to work, or if we work at home, when we begin work there. That can be the time for brief prayer to God who is present. Another opportunity might be when there are certain breaks in our work. The challenge is to find ways of developing the habit of  remembering the presence of God and offering all to God at that point and resolving to do all for his greater glory. We then remain united to God by trying to do our work for him and to do it well. That is to say, we ought try to sanctify our daily work and make it a fit offering to the ever-present God who constantly has us before his loving gaze. 

10. We must live not only in union with Jesus, but living as he did and following his way.

Jesus lived constantly in the presence of the Father, so we ought live constantly in the presence of the Father in the way he did. His way of life was not the way of riches and honours, but the way of simplicity and the cross. It is the way of a simple and straightforward acceptance of the will of God especially when it involves frustration and difficulty, which is to say when it involves the cross. The cross, provided that cross is the expression of what God permits or positively wills, is what will bless us and help us live in his presence. Our own will and our own gratification through personal convenience, honours and riches, will all too easily and often take us away from the presence of God and lead us all that is not God. Let us resolve to live every day doing God’s will lovingly as his children, never leaving the loving presence of the holy Trinity.