Last fall I made my annual retreat at the Guest House at St. John’s Abbey. I arrived Sunday evening in time to join the monks for evening prayer and then returned to my room to spend some time reading and praying before going to bed. Despite my best efforts to sleep in, I awoke early on Monday, so I joined the monks for Morning Prayer and then had breakfast. After breakfast I decided to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Now, at the Abbey church the Blessed Sacrament is in a small room near the back of the church. It is one of my favorite spots. The chapel is quiet, intimate and warm and you don’t have to worry about being disturbed by individuals or groups touring the Abbey church.
Unfortunately, when I got to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel the doors of the Tabernacle were wide open and there was a sign that read: “Damage to the Tabernacle has required removal of the Blessed Sacrament.” As soon as I read the sign my heart sank. My first thought was: “I hope God isn’t trying to tell me something.” As it turns out I needn’t have worried. Actually the sign was a good reminder that God’s presence isn’t restricted to just the Tabernacle. The absence of the Blessed Sacrament challenged me to ask myself where and/or how God might be making God’s presence known to me in other ways.
I suspect there are times for all of us when we go to the place where we are used to feeling God’s presence—and we don’t feel it. There are dry spells in each of our prayer lives. Sometimes too, Mass is not the spiritual experience it usually is. And sometimes too, it is difficult, if not impossible to recognize God’s presence in our brothers and sisters. For all of us, there are times when despite our best efforts we have difficulty feeling God’s presence.
Whenever people tell me they are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence, I always suggest two things. First, I tell them to remember the last places they felt God’s presence and to spend some time in prayer with those memories. If we can remember where we have experienced God’s presence in our lives, that can help us believe that God is still with us, even though we are having difficulty experiencing his presence in the current moment. Our memories are a powerful guide when we have temporarily “lost touch” with God. They call us to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We just need to keep looking for God’s presence and not give up the search.
The other thing I suggest to people who are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence is to look for God in new and unfamiliar places. Trying a different way of praying, or attending a different Mass, or volunteering in a new area, reading the Bible, or simply allowing ourselves to be caught up in the beauty of nature can be great ways of jump starting our spiritual lives and helping us to look for God in new or different places.
God doesn’t have to break into our world. God is always present to us and to our world. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, we can have trouble recognizing God’s presence. When these times occur, we shouldn’t panic or feel that our spiritual life has gone off the rails. We simply need to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We need to trust that God has not abandoned us, and we need to believe that if we continue our efforts, God will help us discover anew God’s abiding and grace-filled presence.