Abiding in God's Presence

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The basic point is that it's God who renders this whole thing so almost inevitable and so easy because God is God, which is to say God is everywhere. It's not that we leave God behind when we'll leave this place and go back to wherever, whether it be the city or back to Chicago, Capitola, wherever, Moraga. God is there, whether we're in our living room or in school or crowded in a store or driving, God is there. So we don't go away from God. The great eloquent psalm says, if I go up to heaven, you are there. If I go down to hell, God is in hell. Wherever I be, God is there. God is there also, not just as God everywhere, that's one of God's perfections if you want


to get fancy, but God is there as our creator, which isn't a once for all and then God just walks away like a watchmaker who makes the watch and then it's just on its own. But our existence is constantly being sustained and carried forward by God. So just that we're here, just that we exist, just that we think and have consciousness, this is a sign of the direct, immediate intervention of God sustaining us. The theologians use the example of the singer who sings out the note and as long as the singer sings the note, it's there, existing, but were the singer to cease, that note would just fall into the void. So we are notes being sung by God and just our ongoing existence is proof of this, not just watching us or being around us, but active sustaining of our being and of our action.


Then if we go into the faith mode, as we should, I think whatever be our denominational background, our church, we've all been baptized into Christ. We're all nourished by Christ in Eucharist. We're all members of Christ, therefore. Like members of the one body, that's St. Paul's very powerful image. So it's not just a kind of a vaguenostic God who's around us like water is around a fish or something, but it's our beloved Christ in whom we are incorporated. Or to use the image from John, the Gospel of John, which I put on the program there, I am the vine, you are the branches, abide in me. So it's Christ who commands this abiding as if we were branches in the vine and that's his analogy, so it must be true. I asked around the hermitage if anyone had a vine and our beloved brother Mark had about


four different varieties. We finally decided on this. So if ever I get too obtuse or vague or something, just look here and pick out a leaf that is you and the rest of us are other leaves and there we are. So that's what it's all about. So a main point I'd like to make is that when we talk about abiding in God, this isn't make-believe. This isn't just using the faculty of our imagination, which is totally legitimate in some of the meditation techniques. For instance, in the Ignatian technique, I'll imagine myself back there in Bethlehem at the crib and I see Mary, I see Joseph, I see Jesus in the manger and maybe a donkey or so. Very legitimate to utilize all my faculties. But in fact, I am not back there in Bethlehem. I'm here in the Big Sur. This isn't the year three before whatever.


This is going on to the year 2000, etc. But if I say, I abide in God, God is all around me, God is at the deepest center of my heart, that is real. And most of the time, in one way or another, we're kind of consciously or unconsciously moving away from that. It's scary. T.S. Eliot says, humankind cannot stand too much reality. So, part of the goal of these days is just to stir up our courage and to turn around and go back home. To acknowledge the reality of the fact, I really am in God. We really are in God here. And then when each of us goes off into our particular rooms and tomorrow morning and yesterday, wherever, whenever, whatever be my emotional state, I am in God. This is reality. This is basic truth.


So that what we're doing in these days, as you could say, reality therapy, just this shock treatment to wake us up from the illusion, from the imagination that I'm autonomous, I'm on my own. God is way up there and I'm down here. Well, that's the illusion. So this is about truth. It's not always evident to us, but we always have faith, and faith, this is the basic thing, that God is, and to say God is, again, God is in Christ and we are in Christ, et cetera. So in faith, with the commitment of will, whatever we are feeling or not feeling, this is the basic datum. It seems to me just about the most important truth about our existence. I'm not isolated. I'm not a way out there alienated.


I'm in God, at the very heart of God, and again, God is at my very heart. That's pretty important. So in terms of self-knowledge, who am I, who are we, this is quite a place to begin with, and this is where we're going. In the kingdom, in heaven, this will be absolutely evident to us. So we're in this intermediary stage where it's not that clear to us, but we do have our faith again, but this is the beginning of faith and this is the end of faith. This is the beginning of vision. Again, Eliot says, in my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning. So it's all about this. When we open ourselves in faith to this, we're enabling, permitting in faith a certain foretaste of the way it'll be always and always and ever and forever and forever kind of thing. This basic truth, again, is scary.


It's frightening. It's heavy. It's also joyful. It's liberating. It's that yoke that is light, that yoke that is easy that Jesus talks about, the yoke of the presence of Jesus. It's absolutely equivalent to Christian love. It's equivalent to our Lord's commandment. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then in this one God, we love all the creatures that God is sustaining in existence, that God is loving, that God is calling to glory, et cetera. So this is it. If we love, we open our minds and hearts to the loving God, and that's abiding in God. In that wonderful text from John, chapter 15, he says, abide in me, abide in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me. At the very end, he says, abide in my love. It's the same thing.


So this is the way we fulfill the commandment, which is the summation of law, the law, and the prophets. So something like the Christian faith, especially in some of its variations like the Roman Catholic faith, can seem sometimes quite complicated with all these dogmas and truths and teachings and traditions, et cetera. But eventually and ultimately, at the heart of it, it's incredibly simple. It's just this God of love who enfolds us and invites us to be with God. The key thing about these days together, and especially the days after, that's the real important thing, is not so much how effective I am, but what each of us does. So this takes a bit of the weight off of me, but I can be incredibly eloquent and persuasive. And if you don't do anything in terms of the prayer, in terms of the act of faith that


places you in the presence of God, or if I don't, then all the words are useless. On the other hand, I can be kind of stumbling and vague and not that helpful. But if in faith, despite it all, you place yourself in God's presence and keep on working, et cetera, then the weekend will be an incredible success. So it's mainly what we do. And as the title of these days suggests, in an ongoing way, not in a first moment of zeal and then kind of, we have better things to do. But in that gentle, persevering way, not putting on ourselves a heavy, heavy guilt trip that I must always absolutely be aware of God in every moment. If I'm not, I get anguished, I've failed again. It's nothing like that. One of the great masters of the spiritual way says, the whole problem of distraction is no problem at all, because our God is a loving God.


If we, in good will, want to abide with God, if we're distracted, that's no huge problem for God. God knows that our minds are just like a cage full of monkeys, as the masters of the desert used to say. We go, in any two-minute period, I'm thinking about 30 different things at once, et cetera. So when I realize I'm elsewhere, just gently come back with humility where, all right, here I am. And just to assume that from now on, I'm going to be distracted in all kinds of ways. But just to gently come back, gently begin again. This master used the example of a loving parent with a little child in the center of the room. The parent is delighted if the child is just a goo-goo over the parent, et cetera. But if the child starts playing with toys and gets a little distracted, the parent doesn't get ferocious and start beating the child. The parent delights just in the whole realm of the child's delight.


So if we're doing the Lord's will, even if we might be 100% distracted, but if we're intentionally doing the Lord's will, we are united there, if not in consciousness, at that very profound level of will united with will. We're doing the Lord's work. So this isn't to pile on each of us a perfectionist guilt trip, but it's to open up a wonderful horizon so that we can always have a bit more to journey towards. We don't come to the end of this and then set aside this, you know, been there, done that kind of thing. It's always a new discovery, a new dimension. The Eastern Fathers say that even after death, even when we enter into the heavenly kingdom, it's not as if we're frozen at that moment, at that level of beatitude we've attained through grace and works or whatever.


But also there, there's this ongoing growth in wonderment and faith. The more I know of God, the more I can know, and the more I can know, the more I aspire for more, and aspiring for more and more is given, and then I aspire, et cetera. So all eternity is this wonderful journeying into and expansion into the infinity of God who's never exhausted, et cetera. So this isn't something we'll complete this weekend and then we go on to something else, but this is what we'll be about for all eternity. But it requires, again, the doing of it. Jesus says, whoever hears my word and puts it into practice is like the person who builds their house on rock. So it's that putting it into practice. A great Benedictine master of the prayer life says the only way to learn how to pray is


to pray, and the only way to learn how to pray well is to pray often. So that's the bottom line. I think because the thought that we are always in God's presence is so fearsome, we come up with all kinds of almost theologies of what prayer is about, what spirituality is about, that constrains, that limits it so we don't always have to live in his presence. One master said religion is the way we kind of keep God at a distance. It should be just the opposite, but we do all these things and we're all busy with our spiritual devout busy work, so we need to open a little less to just the overwhelming majesty and tenderness and gentleness of God. So some of the things that prayer is not, or at least is not only, I hear very often,


prayer strengthens me. It's in prayer that I find the power to go on with all the challenges of the daily life, and that's true. Prayer is this incredible power, but if it's only that, you can reduce it to a kind of a means to the end, which is doing things. It becomes like kind of a filling station, you know. When we drive out, we've got to have gas. When we run out of gas, we go into a filling station, we fill up again. We're glad the filling station is there, but we're not on the road for the filling station. We're on the road to be on the road if it's a pleasure drive or to get somewhere else. Filling station is just a means. So when we think of prayer as giving me the power implicitly there, well, what about giving me the insight into my weakness, or what about when I feel full of power but have gone beyond


that and evolved with other things, et cetera? No, somehow prayer or just communion with God wants to be not a means to an end, but the end. Prayer is for me a refuge. Life is so hectic, frenetic, stressful. It's just very important for me to get away regularly and just to be with God. This also is incredibly true in Jesus himself. Every now and then, he goes away into solitude to be alone with God, and this is certainly restorative. But there again, if it's only that, then it's kind of like an oasis time or vacation time. It's kind of like a holiday inn. You know, you can enjoy the pool and the cable TV, and you just rest, and then you go back to the real frenetic life. But again, prayer wants to be there also, right at the heart of the frenetic life, or


it's nothing. Prayer as real resource in times of emergency. Now, oh my Lord, I've used all my resources. They don't work, so I invoke God. Okay, this is prayer as parachute model, you know? The plane's going down. I can't pull it out of the dive. Well, I pull the ripcord of prayer, you know? C.S. Lewis says, here is evidence the great humility of God. What kind of friend would be a friend if the other person only shows up when they're in trouble, you know? Only knocks on the door when they need a loan of $50 or when they need them to come and take care of their kid who's doing badly or something. No, the good friend is with you throughout, and sharing the small things and the big things, the failures, but also the successes. So we want to know that in the extremely difficult times, there is prayer.


As Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, you know. But that's because we have recourse to prayer. Prayer also in the joyful times, the parable of, not the parable, but the story of Jesus healing the ten, and only one returns to thank him. We're not nine healed. So we want to be there in the good times as well as in the bad. So those are just some ways, again, that we can articulate why prayer is important for us. But precisely the way we put it, we're constraining prayer. We're limiting it to this specific function or area, but not to all the rest. But somehow we need to so expand the envelope that prayer is something like the air we breathe. I was just up at Moraga giving a talk and stayed over a couple of our outlets there.


They have this little embroidered saying framed in the guest room, breathe Christ. Well, that's kind of it. Or the image again of abiding in the divine. So what is prayer? Prayer is just our becoming aware again of reality. Becoming aware that God is, first of all. That's just that. It would be enough to blow us away. That God is God, that God is love, that God is with us in Christ. The whole thing, just a move beyond forgetfulness, move beyond distraction, move beyond the illusion that God isn't around, that God is not an issue for me. A great Quaker master said, we're all functional atheists, if not agnostics, that is we just


assume that God's not around. So we got to do it all. We don't have to worry if we do something a bit improper, et cetera. Again, this isn't about the guilt trip that God always sees you, so you'd better. I read this lovely little paragraph of Cardinal Hume, who recently died. This very gentle, wonderful Benedictine abbot who became the head of the Catholic Church in England, the Cardinal of Westminster. He said when he was a little boy, there were these apples in the, where do you keep the apples? There. Yeah, but in the room, a special place. So they're there. So his parents said to him, now look, if you go in and steal an apple, we won't know, but God will see you, and God will know, and God will punish you. So he had this in his mind with all the implications, so you really want to get away from God.


And he says now, looking back on the impression, on the thing, he has the impression that God was saying, go in and have two apples. He said it in a much more eloquent English style. So we need very much, if we're going to have faith in this, to work on our model of God. And most of us have a pretty scary model of God, for one reason or another, come back this infinitely compassionate, merciful, tender God. So prayer is just this awareness. So prayer is breathing. Prayer is Christian life. Prayer is the heart of the matter. So there's a wonderful phrase, I don't have the right words, but a former Archbishop of Canterbury Temple, a very fine theologian, he said, it's not as if work is supremely important and prayer enables it, but rather prayer is supremely important and work proves


it. So we have to reverse things. We are such an achievement-oriented people, such a get-out-there-and-do, you know. Whereas prayer is more at this level of being, so to come back to that. But being not just in a metaphysical way, we want to also use, that's fine if metaphysics helps you to go with it, but we also want to use the very personal language of Scripture. This is our norming norm, our basic revelation, and Scripture all the way through uses personal models to give us little glimpses of who is this ineffable God. So God is like a father to us, we are like God's children. That's a very profound interpersonal relation. This is where we all begin, so this is deep within us. And at least in some of the texts in Scripture, God is a loving mother, and we are loving


children. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how many times would I have taken you up? God is loving friend, Abraham is called the friend of Yahweh, Christ is, I call you no longer servants but friends. God is the spouse, Christ is the spouse, the bridegroom. So all these very intense, profound models of interpersonal relationship for how we relate to God. And each one of these is dynamic, each one of these again is capable of infinite growth. A child and a parent can always work on their relationship so it becomes ever more authentic, ever more trusting, intimate, loving. Not to mention two friends, not to mention two spouses. So we want to move from a kind of formality with God to just intimacy.


The masters notice that in an interpersonal relationship, if I've just met the person, we have certain rather formal rules of comportment. And I say, how do you do? I am Father Robert Hale, where are you from? And I don't immediately ask them about their deepest griefs or immediately share with them my most profound perplexities about my close friend or something like that. It's wonderful weather we've been having. Is this your first time here, et cetera? Very cautiously, we move towards an engagement that offers a little information but only on it. We had some of that inevitably in our sharing here. But that's the beginning. Something like formal prayer is that. We learn set formula and we repeat them and that's a way to engage with God.


It's also a very deep way, so this analogy doesn't exactly hold, but at least it's a way of beginning. What is prayer? Well, who wants to know? Well, you teach them, our Father, and they learn formally to pray. Then the relationship grows when we can then begin to commute, communicate and commute towards each other spontaneously. And I just, not having recourse to a set formula, I just come out with something that's interesting to me, something that happened that's a joy, joyful, or a grievous, perplexing, makes me angry, whatever it is. You don't come back with a set formula, but something that spontaneously your heart suggests. And then there's a deep relationship. So to move with God, there's the same progression into then the spontaneous, so I come up with


words that maybe I won't find in any book of prayers, but they're my true words in that moment authentically with God. Maybe a gift of anger, maybe of anger against God, that's all right, God can take that. Much of the Psalms is just the anger, the perplexity of the psalmist with God. But they come out of truth, they come out of sincerity, and they're made prayer. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This is quite a ferocious accusation that Jesus hurls at the Father. Precisely that moment is salvific for us. So prayer isn't just being in a nice, pious space, as we sometimes think. I can't pray now because I'm angry, no, now is the time to pray, and it might be much more authentic than those moments when I'm just filled with unction and all kinds of things. So to move from the formality of relationship to the informality, and a final step is just


to move in deep communion where words aren't even necessary. A couple that have been together for 50, 60 years, they can just hold hands, or they can just glance at each other, they can just be there. So that's a final stage of being with God, and to be then open to this possible range. Any questions, comments, perplexities? Yes. When you make the statement about why has the forsaken me, what we have to do is abscond with it. God seems to be, I underline seems, but even the saints have had a feeling, Elizabeth of the Trinity, sometimes when she was in extreme pain, and I'm thinking of myself when I was in the hospital, I tried to pray but it didn't work very well, and God was seemingly not responding immediately.


That's right, this is true language for the person, subjectively, to use a fancy term, phenomenologically, this is what I experience, that God is absent, that there is no God, and I truly express this perplexity to God. God is unjust, why does God permit this? Again, God can handle all that. There's a lovely book out, May I Be Angry With God? Absolutely. I can be angry with my close friend if it's a true friendship, etc. So, right, some days here it's very cloudy and foggy, there's absolutely no sun, whatever. There is a sun, it's just that the fog is in between me and the sun, then the fog parts and there, it's not as if the sun went away and then comes back, but from my experience here, there's no sun. So it's the same with God abandoning me.


That's the way I truly and authentically experience that, so to express it subjectively. Other comments, yes. Yeah, Thomas Merton, in his Conjectures of the Glycine, said that St. Ambrose said that the greatest, well, the greatest pain that Christ suffered on the cross was his actual death and that he would be no communication with the Father, you know, for that three days. And I'm not sure if that is in his totally God, totally man. In other words, the death of God, in some conceptual here, was the Son of God, I mean,


the second person of the Blessed Trinity, detached from the Trinity for those three days as total God and total man. You see what I'm saying? That's a heavy trip. Yeah, again, I think it's like Jesus in the garden. Death is maybe the huge fear of all of us. We have to acknowledge this. And death is experienced by us as just the cutting off of everything we know, all our points of contact and all our points of security, including where will God be if I'm dead, you know, so that Jesus in his humanity felt agony, felt sorrow, felt abandoned by God and also was fearful of that experience in death. Theologically, the Son is always substantially, the humanity of Jesus is always substantially


united to the divinity, et cetera, et cetera. But we're not interested so much in abstract theology as how the humanity of Jesus really experienced this, which makes Jesus totally in solidarity with us so that we can acknowledge in each one of us that terror of death. Some say that's the primordial fear of all. And so prayer is our one resource there. So, well, we've done about 55 minutes. We'll go on a little with this tomorrow and then we'll move into the whole sacramental sustaining of our presence in God. We've all of us thought about Eucharist and thought about baptism and all these good things. I just want to revisit these great central consolations of our faith from this perspective of how they sustain and enable my ongoing prayer.


Eucharist is there to help me throughout the day to pray. Baptism is there to provide the ground for that. The Holy Trinity there is where I am when I pray. Whatever experience or awareness I have or not. But so we're going to revisit these basic doctrines tomorrow morning, not because you have never heard about them, but again, from this precise angle of how they can deepen our abiding in God. We don't want to just think they're irrelevant to that. We've got our faith, our doctrines, and then we've got to make the effort of being with God. No, these are what give us the depth, the profundity, the consolation, the possibility of abiding in God. Thank you.