Someone once asked me, how do you describe the presence of God? He wasn’t referring to the sort of omnipresent sense of God, but of the manifest type referred to by Brother Lawrence and other mystics throughout Christian history.
How does one define the intangible, unsensable notion of this presence of the Creator? Oddly enough, I had an answer for him and I still stand by it.
“Have you ever been in a room by yourself, reading or something?” I asked him. “At a very deep, unconscious level, you know you’re alone.”
He nodded, listening.
“Then suppose, someone comes in. It’s your roommate. You both say ‘hi’ and then you go back to reading. He settles in on his bunkbed, also now reading out of your eyesight. You’re reading your book and he’s reading his book across the room, out of your vision.
“Here’s the interesting part: There is now an undeniable sense of his presence in your mind. You are not looking at him, smelling him, hearing him, or in any tangible way conscious of his existence in the same room as you, yet you are fundamentally aware that he is there with you. You won’t accidentally forget he’s there because there is a deeper-than-your-five-senses-awareness of your roommate’s presence in your room.”
My friend, who was far less ethereal and more concrete in his thinking, politely nodded and then shrugged as if I was talking about my imaginary pet lizard. Nonetheless, as a Christian, this is still how I think about the presence of God.
Most of us, for most of our lives, will not have sensual experiences with God. By that, I mean any kind of experience in which we sense Him with any of our five senses. I know plenty of people who claim to have audibly heard His voice, or seen some sign from Him with their eyes. I myself have a basketful of similar memories, though it’s easy to look back on them in my moments of doubt and dismiss them as emotional trips.
I even have a friend who told me that she was once praying and suddenly she knew she was “smelling heaven.” She described it as the best scent she had ever inhaled and had no other way to describe it.
Stories like these will largely always be the exception to the daily rule of drudging on beneath a silent God. He is quiet. He is a Gentleman, meaning He doesn’t spill Himself into our lives uninvited.
But what if we thought about Him as a presence we were previously unaware of. Not one you can sense, but that same idea of knowing someone is in the room with you? It’s like in those million and one films where someone walks into a room and suddenly the light turns on: Someone has been sitting in the dark waiting for them and they had no idea (Spoiler alert: It’s always either their enemy or their boss/parent).
If this has ever happened to you (usually it’s a friend just trying to scare us, not James Bond emptying your pistol of ammo), you know what a shock to your system it is to think you’re alone and discover you’re wrong. It’s disorienting for a few seconds to realize that someone is actually there with you.
I can’t help but think that most of us are the person entering the room, unaware of this incredible presence there with us. Except in our case, the light rarely turns on and we go about our business.
But imagine two things:
1 // Imagine if God were to turn on the light and you spin around, amazed that you are actually not alone. I don’t mean this as a “you better not sin because God will always see you touching yourself” type of notion. But more in the sense of Emmanuel, God With Us. You are never alone because someone is always with you, cheering for you and on your team.
2 // Imagine if you were intentional about making yourself more aware of God’s quiet presence, even when the light is off. Like the silent roommate in the room with you, you can continually draw your mind back to the profound knowledge that God is present with you. I am trying to get better at this, and ‘practice the presence of God’ more often. It’s hard because of the number of visible, non-spiritual things there are to focus on, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. Or in this case, if it were sensed, everyone would believe it.
So wherever you’re reading this right now, maybe just sit back and realize. Look up from the screen and acknowledge the quiet, invisible presence of Someone in the room with you. Or on the train with you. Or in the cafe or car with you. Like I said, it takes practice to focus on the mystical presence of God, but I’m trying to get better at it.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to carry an awareness of Him while you were working? While you were doing the dishes, or stuck in a red light? What if you could even be aware of His invisible presence with you during conversations? While parenting or playing sports?
Let’s do this together. Let’s be people who carry this awareness of our god with us everywhere, and even make this awareness contagious.