In the first half of life I associated God’s presence with the high points in life. I still remember the first time I got on a roller coaster and felt the rush of adrenaline. That was something I wanted more of, needed more of, to feel complete. The approval of my peers was a rush like that roller coaster. Winning felt so distinctly different than losing. Making good grades in my field of study mattered a little too much. Even as I entered into the priesthood at 27, my ambition often outpaced my devotion. It began to dawn on me, a couple years after I became rector of a parish, that the success of the parish was more important to me than it should be. I identified the numerical, financial, and physical growth of the parish with personal success. When I did pause long enough to pray, I looked for God in the heights. It was as if I thought God was way up in heaven and I could approach him only in the rush of excitement or some thrill of victory.
In my early 30s, it hit me that I had always been on an addictive quest and I began to search for more spiritually. Things began to shift in my prayer life gradually and then, a few years later, very suddenly. During an extended silent prayer retreat, as I was sitting in a circle with about 20 other people, I finally got still enough for something to change. As I entered that time of silent prayer in the circle, I did what I always had done in prayer: I cast my attention upwards, with my heart shooting little flares up to God. After a while the flares faded and I began to sit more solidly and peacefully in my chair. The weight of my feet on the floor and my body in the chair became noticeable. My awareness moved from way up high to the ground beneath me and then I lost track of time for a while. When I came back to myself, it felt like God was more underneath me than above me. That may sound strange but that moment was a big turning point for me in my relationship with God.
Ever since then, when I sit in silence, I know I am beginning to feel God’s presence when I notice the weight of my feet on the floor and my body in the chair. I let go of those addictive little highs and sink into God’s presence. There I know peace and comfort, as I experience God as that being which holds and supports all of life. There I can sense that my life is an outgrowth of God. Rather than feeling like I have to do something grand or exciting to find the way to God, I can know that God has always been holding me. As the floor and chair hold me up, I come to know that I am resting in God himself. From that grounding I gain what is needed for the tasks set before me.
Several times each day I still get lost in my addictive quest for the highs of life. One way I can catch myself is to recognize what is happening and settle back down into the ground under my feet. Sometimes I can make the adjustment of perspective pretty quickly. Sometimes it is necessary for me to get very still for a longer period of time and really feel that grounding. Sometimes the addictive little quest runs wild for days or weeks and then God will call me back to the stillness. For me it’s all about remembering that God is not so much way up there as God is here, beneath me and all around me. All I need to know God’s presence is to be where I am. But, if you’re like me, you spend a lot of time trying to be somewhere else rather than where you are.
Ground yourself in the being of God. Know that God holds you, and all of creation, in love and strength. Enter your life more fully to find God rather than looking for God some place you are not. Let go of those addictive quests which distract you and lead you to think God is somewhere other than right here with you. God sent his only Son to live among us so that we might find peace in this world. God is present here and now, underneath you and all around you.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.