Reflecting on the Presence of God in our Lives

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During our October 2012 monthly meeting of IVC volunteers at the Washington Jesuit Academy, Ginny, our wonderful facilitator, asked us: What is your favorite prayer? We went around the large table in our meeting room quickly and everyone mentioned one or two prayers, without further elaboration. A great variety of prayers were mentioned.  On impulse, I mentioned two biblical statements: (1) the “body is the temple of the living God” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and (2) “In God we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28).

Afterwards, I began mulling over this question: Why are these two prayers so meaningful to me? The most important part of the answer is that, although in different ways, they each give me a strong sense—a feeling, not just a thought—of God’s presence in my life.  In fact, isn’t our Divine, Sacred Source the True or Real Self?  Saint Augustine said: “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself.”

Another part of the answer to my own question, however, relates to the practice of daily reflection.  Reflecting on one’s life—in an effort to increase self-awareness and gain spiritual insight—can be a wonderfully beneficial practice, I believe.  But, for some of us, depending on how it is practiced, daily reflection on our failings and shortcomings might sometimes seem a little like self-flagellation, making us feel defensive.

Why would this be?  Well, if I’m reacting defensively to awareness of my flaws or imperfections, doesn’t this indicate that I’m trying to protect my false self? (“False self,” here, refers to one’s “masks,” whatever illusions, pretensions, vanities, etc., we mistakenly try—consciously or unconsciously—to convince ourselves or others are our True or Real Self).  In other words, is defensiveness merely an effort at “false self” protection?

If so, why should we waste time defending the false self?  Does such defensiveness indicate—to those of us who tend to experience it, either in the process of living our daily lives or when reflecting on them—that too often we’re living in the illusion of separateness from our True or Real Self?  Wouldn’t it be better to recognize that, as Erasmus taught, “Humility is truth” and that “In and of myself I can do nothing…” (John 5:30), “…but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)?  We can find our true worth in God’s presence, inherent deep within every soul.

It seems to me that this perspective can, among other things, counterbalance that sense of defensiveness and, perhaps, other subtle or not-so-subtle forms of self-inflicted suffering. Moreover, such prayers can nurture in us a growing sense that our deepest spiritual self, our “True Self,” is in God.  So, and this is my main point, while it is good to be readily conscious of our faults, shortcomings, etc., and especially our need for humility, shouldn’t we simultaneously seek to sustain the sense that our loving God is not only transcendent but also immanent: always within each of us? Or are we “willing” to live like Tolstoy’s legendary beggar, unaware that we are “sitting on a pot of gold”?

In the spiritual classic: The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence says the worst thing that could happen to him is to lose the sense of God’s presence.  Can living with a sense of God’s presence liberate us from defensiveness so that we seek whatever truth we can find in criticisms we receive, from ourselves as well as others?

Finally, what is your response to Ginny’s question: “What is your favorite prayer?” And, why?

Kevin Tansey is a retired federal employee and an IVC volunteer, serving in his eighth year at DC Central Kitchen. He is also a member of IVC’s Board of Directors.

 

12 Responses to “Reflecting on the Presence of God in our Lives”

  1. jeanie sweeney

    Yes, so right on, Kevin. I DO believe that living that awareness of PRESENCE leaves us open and undefended in the present moment —-and thereby able to receive the ever new, ever fresh grace of God to tackle whatever comes our way. Yea!

    Reply
  2. Kenneth Pruitt

    Great post! Reminds of the vows my wife and I wrote for our wedding…that we would be constantly emptying ourselves of self in order to be filled by the other. As time has gone on, I think that’s also a great way to think about prayer…i.e. God, how can I be less me and more you, and therefore my TRUE self.

    Reply
  3. Kenneth Pruitt

    Great post! Reminds me of the vows my wife and I wrote for our wedding…that we would be constantly emptying ourselves of self in order to be filled by the other. As time has gone on, I think that’s also a great way to think about prayer…i.e. God, how can I be less me and more you, and therefore my TRUE self.

    Reply
  4. Christine

    My favorite prayer is Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment. I used to pray often with the Little Sisters of Jesus who are modeled after Foucauld’s spirituality. I’m not sure why this prayer is so important to me. Maybe it’s its sheer love, vulnerability, and courage.

    Father,
    I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
    Whatever you may do, I thank you:
    I am ready for all, I accept all.
    Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
    I wish no more than this, O Lord.

    Into your hands I commend my soul;
    I offer it to you
    with all the love of my heart,
    for I love you, Lord,
    and so need to give myself,
    to surrender myself into your hands,
    without reserve,
    and with boundless confidence,
    for you are my Father.

    Reply
    • MARLENE GRIMALDI

      THIS IS A TRULY BEAUTIFUL PRAYER. TO ME IT SPEAKS OF THE IDEA OF “HOLY INDIFFERENCE,’–TO BE COMFORTABLE IN THE REALM OF UNCERTAINTY, TO TRUST IN GOD.

      Reply
  5. Boz Borowiecki

    Thanks for sharing. My favorite is The Serenity Prayer, which we know as:
    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    courage to change the things I can,
    and the wisdom to know the difference.
    However, there’s more to this prayer that many people don’t know and continues:
    Living one day at a time,
    enjoying one moment at a time,
    accepting hardships as the pathway to peace,
    taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it,
    trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will,
    that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
    and supremely happy with Him forever.
    This prayer helps me put things in perspective, in a busy and sometimes overwhelming world that constantly expects us to react, respond, take a position, or take action, often without adequate reflection, consideration of the consequences, or recognition of our own accountabilities.

    Reply
    • Kevin Tansey

      Thanks Boz for your response on December 7. Like many, I’ve often heard and admired the first four lines of The Serenity Prayer, but never had heard the rest of it. I really appreciate your sharing it with us. You’re so right that this prayer helps put things in perspective.

      Reply
  6. Kevin Tansey

    Three additional offerings received in response to the question: What is your favorite prayer(s) and why?

    Let nothing disturb thee,
    Nothing affright thee
    All things are passing;
    God never changeth;
    Patient endurance
    Attaineth to all things;
    Who God possesseth
    In nothing is wanting;
    Alone God sufficeth.
    Saint Teresa (1515-1582) Lines Written in Her Breviary
    —Translator: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    The “Glory Be”, a short song of praise that covers an abundance of bases.

    “Heaven doth with us as we with torches do, not light them for themselves.”
    by Wm. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure (Act I, Scene 1).
    A pithy reminder of our God-assigned duty.

    Reply
  7. Diana Gaillardetz

    My favorite prayer at this moment is, most likely, the prayer that I need in this moment the most:
    “After all, trust in the slow work of God.
    We are quite naturally impatient in everything,
    to reach the end without delay.
    we should like to skip the intermediate stages.
    We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
    ……….
    ……….
    Only God could say what this new spirit
    gradually forming within you will be.
    Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
    that His hand is leading you,
    and accept the anxiety of feeling ourself
    in suspense, and incomplete.” Teilhard de Chardin, SJ

    Reply
  8. Madeleine Kirk

    St. Augustine strikes me as having the right idea about prayer.
    Lord, you created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
    Please show us how to love you with all our heart and our neighbor as ourself!

    Reply
  9. Charlotte

    First Prayer: Divine Mercy Chaplet’s optional closing prayer:
    “Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible…”

    It is God’s love and mercy I desire and have received many times upon me a miserable sinner. He sees and knows my heart that strives to let his will be done in my life, not mine.

    Second Prayer: St. Therese of the Child Jesus:
    “May today there be peace within.
    May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
    May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
    May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
    May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
    Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
    It is there for each and every one of us.”
    Note: my soul is filled with love and peace and in awe when I realize I AM a child of God.
    The line of being content, helps my restless, anxious soul to be patient, to know the truth that I am where God wills for me to be at this time. To be joyfully grateful for this present moment, for this present work I may be doing and not frustrated looking for something to big to happen. Simply to do my best in the little things I do for the Glory of God and not for any self recognition. Amen.

    Reply
  10. Emilie Gillanders

    Kevin’s insightful blog and everyone’s comments provided me with a wonderful morning reflection. Thank you.

    Reply

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