Q: Not often, but a number of times during my 55 years of life, have experienced great consolation and a sense of the presence of God in the most hectic of circumstances. I was not praying in any formal way during these times, in fact I was busy, tired, and very distracted. Do others sometimes experience this and is God trying to tell me something? If so, what might it be? Gratefully — Brother Bernard, Pennsylvania

A: Even a cursory look through the annals of recorded mystical experiences will show that divine visitations come to people more often than supposed, unexpectedly, even in the midst of prosaic circumstances. Divine spirit is ever present in our lives as the fact of grace, and does not have to wait for our invocation to pour its benediction upon us, for “the wind bloweth where it listeth” (John 3:8). It may come when we actually need it the most, not necessarily when we want it the most.

Whether we experience the divine presence through grace as an action of ‘descent’ of peace or power, or as an ‘indrawing’ of our consciousness into the blissful silence, these experiences mostly seem to be brief and episodic, even for those who have a strong mystical propensity. However, the priceless gift of the sacred presence, when it comes, is surely a response to our knocking on the door. Profound gratitude for these experiences strengthens the link with God from our side, and brings about genuine humility – which is our ego’s correct response to insight into our relationship with the divine.

With a deeply listening heart and a keen lookout for distorting influences of our subconscious constructions, wishes, and expectations, we may glean the spiritual lessons imbedded in the very pattern of our experiences.

Many people who have a strong spiritual practice find that glimpses of the sacred tend to come when their attention is elsewhere, rather than through the mind’s deep introversion into the heart during fixed times of prayer and meditation. Even in earnest prayer, too tight an orbit of our thoughts and feelings sometimes remains around the ‘I’, despite being directed towards ‘Thou’. When the attention is saturated more with ‘seeking’ — which is ‘I’-centered — rather than ‘surrendering’ — which is ‘Thou’-centered — then grace visits us at times when our attention is more relaxed.

This is not to say that the advent of grace in the midst of our everyday lives, appearing to come without beckoning, must occur because of some lack of fitness in our inner practices. Quite the contrary is the case. The sun of God’s love shines on all, but those faithful souls who show special fidelity are rewarded by the gift of the divine presence. It confirms the path we are set upon, and gives a mantle of comfort in our life’s journey.

 


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