A God who is unnoticeable in the world is one who is unknowable to its people. I fear we exist in a culture in which God is no longer noticeable. If my fear is on target, the realities are life-shaking.
Perhaps I am wrong.
Maybe God is noticeable.
A question might help us both personalize and consider His notice-ability:
How often have you been aware of God’s presence within the last 24 hours?
Can’t recall any moments?
If you can’t recall any moments, you are, in all likelihood, not alone. Many of us, indeed most of us, rarely experience the routine presence of God in the midst of the routine experience of life.
Is this because God is absent? Many seem to think so. Most live as if it is so. In last week’s post I noted how the Hebrews’ sense of God’s presence in their midst was undeniable. They believed He was, if not knowable in the world, at the very least noticeable in the world. As such, they read the sacred texts with a sense of anticipation and expectation. They sought to follow Him and strove to seek His presence in their midst.
Such an orientation no longer seems to be the case, even for we who believe.
This sense that God is with and among us is, however, not limited to the ancients. Such an orientation has been the default orientation of much (though admittedly not all) of humanity for century upon century.¹ In modern times we seem to have experienced a seismic shift in orientation. We now assume that God is not only unknowable, but He is equally unnoticeable. We believe, or at least live as if, God has left the building.
This shift in orientation didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in my lifetime, even. No, the rumblings of this radical cultural reorientation can be felt as far back as two hundred years or so ago.
Where does one look to find this shift?
One need look only as far as any culture’s influential poets and painters to get a picture of where the culture is and where she might be headed. And, if one were to reach back about 150 years and grab some Dickinson, you would find poetry such as this:
Those — dying then,
Knew where they went —
They went to God’s Right Hand —
No. We did not get here overnight. We now inhabit a culture habituated to the belief that God is neither knowable nor noticeable. When God isn’t noticeable, then He will – in time – also become unknowable. As we inhabit a world into which God’s hand no longer seems to reach, we begin – quite naturally – to assume that His hand has been amputated. We may not state it in such poetically crass terms as Dickinson does, but we feel it nonetheless. Indeed, we conclude, God is nowhere to be found!
The sense that God is absent plagues every one of us. It’s at the heart of the pain we feel as we enter our culture and as we gather for worship. We no longer see signs of God’s hand in our midst. As such, we wonder where He is as we question His care and goodness. Suddenly, the tune of Don McClean’s American Pie resonates deeply. Though it’s unspoken, we intuitively sense that we inhabit a culture in which the sacred store has closed; God has indeed caught the last train for the coast. Someone please, pass the whiskey and rye.
But wait! What if God hasn’t caught the last train for the coast?
What if God never left? What if He stayed?
In the midst of chaos?
In the midst of endless cultural conflict?
In the midst of divorce?
In the midst of addiction?
In the midst of abuse suffered?
In the midst of global injustice?
Yes, to all!
I believe the Psalmist is right when he exclaims – in the midst of similar turmoil and trial – “I am confident that I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.” What if, in fact, it’s not God who is absent to us but we who are absent to God?
If this is the case, then we can take hope in the truth that God is with us as we take some intentional steps to awaken us to His presence in our midst. Both hope and intentional steps are important. Without hope we perish. Without intentional steps we wander.
By intentional steps I simply mean spiritual practices or disciplines that disrupt the disconnected, deafening, and detached patterns of my life so that I might be restored and renewed to the life God intends me to live!
Today I am going to offer one potentially life-altering step or practice that has been of great value to me! This practice, when applied consistently in my life, makes me a better person to be around. This practice directs my attention to Christ and His presence in such a way that I am able to carry Him with me in the midst of my daily interactions and opportunities.
To illustrate this practice, I am going to lean on the boys of summer, who recently began their spring training regiment, and leverage an analogy from the world of baseball.
Confession: I love the game of baseball. I love every level and aspect of the game; from the tiniest T-baller to the most overpaid professional. Why? Because baseball is, fundamentally, a game of focus and habit.
We, as modern believers inhabiting a God-is-absent culture, would do well to develop this type of focus as a habit. We need a regular rhythm that pushes out all the cultural noise and distractions; a rhythm enabling us to be habitually in tune with God’s presence with us and His spirit within us on a daily basis.
Perhaps a fictitious baseball player named Billy Chapel might provide insight into this quest. Billy Chapel is the famed (though fictitious) ballplayer featured in the film, For the Love of the Game. The film utilizes baseball, actually one game of baseball (a ‘perfect game’) as a metaphor for the dreams, desire, and disasters that life brings our way. As the film unfolds, Billy, at the twilight of his career, is in the midst of pitching a perfect game.
Throughout the game, as he is on the mound, his thoughts drift to unfulfilled dreams, dashed hopes, and missed opportunities. Added to all of this, the setting is the Bronx, where the fans are infamous for distractions. In nearly every scene, the Yankee fans seek to confound his hopes – that of throwing a perfect game. In order to overcome these distractions, Billy leans on a habit or practice he called, clearing the mechanism. It’s quite simple. He simply centers himself and his focus on what matters and only what matters. In this moment of focus he says to himself, Clear the mechanism.
For centuries, believers of various stripes have practiced something similar to Chapel’s clear the mechanism habit. This habit is known as, The Examen or Review of the Day. The Review of the Day is a weekly or even daily rhythm of self-examination. It is, essentially, the practice of clearing the mechanism.
Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Center, suggests we practice this habit within the context of God’s amazing grace (perhaps using Psalm 139 as a guide) as we retire at the end of each day. She even gives us some helpful questions we might ask:
How was God present with me today?
What promptings did I notice?
How did I respond or not respond?
If you are like me, then you struggle in your attempts to remain aware of and celebrate the continuous presence of God. Take a moment tonight and try clearing the mechanism². If this helps you focus, then take this habit to work.
Pause before or after your lunch break and review the previous hours as you look ahead to the ones yet to come. Take two minutes and read a favorite portion of scripture. See if your life – over time and through practice – becomes littered with moments of celebration and thanksgiving.
Over time, it is habits such as these that lead to human flourishing and a real experience of rediscovering the God who never left!!
Disrupting to Renew
²DisruptusRenovatus contains an example of a format I use when I practice a Review of the Day.