We have the impression it is in moments of peace and stillness that we are most likely to sense the presence of God. The reality is that, for most of us, those moments are few and far between. Most of us live such busy lives that a time of extended contemplation, a time of silence, is simply not available to us.
Parker Palmer, the American spiritual writer, suggests that opportunities for contemplation happen to us all the time. He suggests there are many such moments, not just in each lifetime, but in every day. We are often not aware of them as opportunities because they are also moments of uncertainty, or moments of fear, and sometimes moments of pain.
One opportunity for sensing the presence of God is when we experience Disillusionment- when we feel let down by a friend, a loved one, or an institution. A vision that we have held fast to has failed us, leaving us on the verge of despair. To be Dis-illusioned is to live without an illusion-seeing things the way they really are.
There are lots of illusions that we live with all the time; the illusion that war automatically leads to peace, the illusion that the rich and the poor both get what they deserve, the illusion that if somebody is suffering it is because of something they did. To be Dis-illusioned is to have those illusions taken away and to be able to see into the heart of Reality-and it is not something everyone wants.
There is a wonderful story about a group of monks. One of their number died, and as was the custom, they buried him in the monastery wall. After three days they heard a knocking on the inside of the wall. "My goodness!" So they removed the wall, and there he was. He said, "I want to tell you what I experienced in my passage through." They responded, "Tell us. Tell us." When he had finished telling them, they realized that what he had told them was far different from the teaching they had lived with up to that time, and so they put him back in the wall.
Dis-location is another of those contemplative moments of opportunity, when we feel out of place and out of time. Perhaps there is no worse feeling in the world than being escorted back to your office, being given a box while somebody stands there and watches you clean out your desk, and then escorts you to the parking lot. You have been dis-located-physically, emotionally, and sometimes spiritually. You do not belong anymore, at least not there.
The question then becomes, "Where do you belong?" We have all experienced that sense of Dis-location, whether through a job loss, a death, or by holding to a truth that we know is unpopular.
A third opportunity for contemplation lies in Unbidden Solitude. On the mountain when the disciples woke up and found themselves alone with Jesus, he commanded them not to tell anybody what they had seen. They had had this incredible life-changing experience, and yet were not able to share it.
We too know what these moments of unbidden solitude are like. As much as we crave community, there are times when we are very much alone. These moments are times when we can sense our value as individuals in relation to the community. We come to understand that one of the purposes of community is to protect our solitude, to nurture our sense of ourselves as unique and creative individuals, each with our own gifts.
Moments of God's Presence
Dis-Illusionment, Dis-Location, and Unbidden Solitude-all are moments in our busy and active lives when we can sense God's presence. Taken one way, they can leave us shattered, broken, wondering, dazed or confused. Taken as opportunities they provide us with an occasion to see what the mystic Thomas Merton once called "the hidden wholeness of our lives and of creation." It is in these moments when we feel alone and afraid that we can see something deeper that sustains not only us, but the whole world.
Geoffrey Wilfong-Pritchard is an ordained clergy on the staff of St. Andrew's United Church in Edmonton.
Newsletter Vol. 8 No. 3 April 2002
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