Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing devotions based on the United Methodist membership vows, where we pledge to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. This week’s focus is PRESENCE.
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. 12 He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. 13 Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. 15 I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. 17 He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. 18 After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it.
Throughout my life, I’ve encountered places where God’s presence has been something so real you could feel it – like an electricity in the air. I’ve felt God’s Spirit in groves of sequoias, on the sides of mountains, walking along seashores, in historic and holy sites, standing before pieces of art, and in all kinds of religious spaces – churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples, and outdoor chapels.
How do we come to see a place as being sacred, infused with the presence of God? Jacob, the father of the people of Israel, recognized one such sacred place through a dream. When he awoke, he marked the spot where he slept with a makeshift altar. Maybe you’ve recognized God’s presence through a sense of awe (a mix of wonder and fear), a feeling of deep conviction about something God was telling you, or a peace that let you know everything was going to be ok.
While we probably have all had the experience of sacred spaces and personal holy sites, there is a tension in our belief about how God works. Unlike ancient people, who often thought of tribal gods as inhabiting only certain geographic areas, a core part of our understanding of the One True God is that the Divine Presence is everywhere and with everyone. In a sermon to the people of Athens, the apostle Paul proclaimed this truth, saying: “God doesn’t live in temples made with human hands” (Acts 17:24).
So then, if God is present everywhere to everyone, maybe the challenge for us is learning to expect God’s presence everywhere with everyone. All of us love those hair-on-end experiences of God. Our spiritual lives are nurtured and enriched by these touchstones that we return to over and over again in our memories. But we expect those moments to be rare, few-and-far-between. They seem too special for the everyday.
But what if that doesn’t have to be the case? What if we expected God to show up – whenever, wherever, and with whomever we found ourselves? So long as we imagine God to be locked up in churches, in particularly beautiful natural settings, or other kinds of sacred spaces, we can keep God safely at a distance. But that’s not the point of faith. The point of faith is to invite God’s presence into our everyday – at work, at school, at the Wawa.
Even as I wrote this, a momma deer walked by the window with her tiny fawn – probably not more than a few weeks old. When I gasped, she heard me through the screen door, then turned and stared me in the face. These are everyday moments of experiencing God’s presence, and they are not meant to be taken for granted.
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
Part of experiencing God’s presence in the everyday is about slowing down. Today, are there moments – even if only a few minutes – for you to be outdoors with your coffee, in conversation with your kids or dear friends about their lives, or showing kindness to a stranger?
Prayer: Holy God, bless me today with an awareness of your presence. Bless me today with a moment of quiet that I might slow down and recognize you – in beauty, in nature, in another human, in kindness and caring. I ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.