FINDING GOD ON THE RUN | by Joe Pawlika
In the 1960s and 70s, I loved to watch the mysteries of Alfred Hitchcock. I found his weekly television series and his movies fascinating and engaging. I was particularly intent on watching to see if Alfred would make one of his cameo appearances. He would appear in some shows but not in others. He would sometimes be in disguise (an elderly grandmother) and at other times would simply appear as himself but hidden in a crowd (a commuter on a train reading a newspaper or a shopper looking into a shop window). However, trying to catch a glimpse of Alfred was often a very distracting experience. Sometimes, I would be so intent on seeing Alfred that I had no idea what the “story” was about. At other times, I got so interested in the “story” that I even forgot to look for Alfred. Always I experienced the tension of being present either as an “observer” or a “participant.” Very often I was left wondering, was he there at all or did I simply miss his appearance.
In my search for God’s presence in everyday life, I seem to face the same dilemma. There seems to be a dynamic interplay between what is focal and what serves as the background to my presence and attention. At times, I become so intently focused on my responsibilities, my understanding and my relationships that I forget the grounding presence of God. At other times, I experience the presence of God in such an overpowering and immanent way that for a moment I seem to forget where I am, what I am doing and who I am with. I suppose that what I am really seeking is a kind of “contemplative-action” or “simple presence” in which I can be fully present – where “God is” and where “I am” at the same moment.
I am consoled by the knowledge that I am not alone in this quest for simplicity and presence. In the 18th century, in Abandonment to Divine Providence, Jean Pierre de Caussade wrote:
There is never a moment when God does not come forward in the guise of some suffering or some duty, and all that takes place within us, around us and through us both includes and hides his activity. Yet, because invisible, we are always taken by surprise and do not recognize his operation until it has passed by us. If we could lift the veil and if we watched with vigilant attention, God would endlessly reveal himself to us and we should see and rejoice in his active presence in all that befalls us. At every event we should exclaim, “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7)
Are there practices and disciplines that would help us to “lift the veil” and to live our common, ordinary, unspectacular lives more attentive and responsive to both the “story” and the “presence” of the Lord? I certainly find it true that I often “do not recognize his operation until it has passed by.” The traditional practice of the “Consciousness Examen” engages the human faculty of memory to “lift the veil” and catch a glimpse of God’s presence in the common, ordinary and unspectacular events of our day. This spiritual discipline invites us to take a few moments at the close of our day to gently bend back and remember the persons and events, the experiences and dispositions that have filled the minutes that have made up our day.
Over the past few months I have tried to become more faithful to this practice. Gradually, with time, it has become less of a “harsh duty” or “self-discipline” and more of a “gentle completion” of the day. Seldom have I experienced an “Examen” in which I did not remember at least one moment of “God’s presence” and one moment in which through preoccupation, busyness, routine, self-centeredness or arrogance I avoided, missed or denied God’s beckoning call. More often than not, however, I seem to have the experience described by Edith Stein:
And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him – really rest – and start the next day as a new life.
Unfortunately, for me, however, I am a “morning person” and evening is not an easy time for me to be attentive and reflective. I usually “drift off” and somehow miraculously get to bed each night. I decided that maybe I could do my “Examen” in the morning, before the day became hectic, demanding and exhausting. In trying out this new practice, my reflection shifted and employed the use of imagination in its anticipatory mode. I tried to imagine the situations and persons that might enter my day. I asked myself “How am I called to be present and how might I respond meaningfully to what is being asked and offered to me in this encounter?” While unexpected events continued to arise, I often found myself taken back in memory to my morning “Examen” and to the hopeful dispositions that were evoked when I was more present to the Presence of God.
I suppose it’s not surprising that if “the veil [of God’s presence] can be lifted” somewhat, both through memory and anticipation, there might develop the capacity and possibility of “finding God on the run.” In fact, this is beginning to happen for me in the course of my everyday life. If memory reveals those moments in the past when I may have missed God’s presence and if imagination prepares me for those moments yet to come when God might be waiting for me, then it just might be that this very moment holds the promise of being a graced and blessed moment of encounter with the Mystery of God. The moment asks only that I surrender my self-consciousness and offer myself to rest in the awesome reality of God’s abiding Love.
Once again, Edith Stein writes:
God is there in these moments of rest and gives us in a single instant what we need. Then, the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace.
About the Author
Brother Joseph Pawlika, a Xaverian Brother for 54 years, has served as Director of Formation and Director of Novices for the Congregation. He is currently a member of the guidance department at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Massachusetts.
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