Arts and Culture

God’s Presence As Gift

Eight and last in a series

The more deeply we become aware of God’s loving presence in our lives, the more likely it is that we will respond to God lovingly.

God’s presence is a call to us for commitment, a call for relationship. That call can come to us in many ways. For example it can come to us through our parents, our siblings, our friends. It can come to us through the Church, through the sacraments, through history, through art. Our recent celebration of Thanksgiving may have provided an opportunity for us to be more appreciative of God’s generosity even as God calls us to commitment. This season of advent may help us to hope in God’s salvific presence. God’s loving presence is not an occasional presence. It is constant. God never abandons us, never leaves us alone. Even when we sin, God remains present to us.

There are at least two reasons I have devoted a number of columns to Michael Downey’s “Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality” (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000, pp. 143, $12). The first is that the book has influenced me deeply. It has enriched my image of God and even has had an effect on my prayers. Downey’s emphasis on God’s love for us, and God as gift-giver in relation to us, speaks to me with a special power at this time in my life. Though I have always believed that God loves us and that God has showered gifts on us, Downey’s insights into these two truths have been very helpful to me.

To state my enthusiasm for the book very simply I would say Downey’s book has been the right book for me to be re-reading at this moment. The other reason that I have devoted a number of columns to Downey’s book is that I want to share his insights with others.

Downey writes the following:

“Through the Incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorption, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life.”

The Son of God has become one of us so that we might become open and receptive to God’s life within us. God’s love for us, God’s indwelling within us can move us from a terrible narrowness, a selfish focusing primarily on ourselves, to a deeper love of God and neighbor. We can be transformed through God’s love for us. Everything – all human activity – can take on a new and infinitely richer meaning because of the Incarnation. Mentioning several seemingly mundane activities that have been changed because the Word became human, Downey writes the following:

“But especially in our brokenness and in our vulnerability. All these ordinary and quite mundane human realities are paths to communion in the one Love. In artistic expression and in the sacramental life of the church we see more clearly the whole of the human reality as a precinct of epiphany, the geography of grace, the region of God’s constant coming as gift.”

We are encouraged to trust in God’s love for us in every eucharistic celebration but I think that it can be very beneficial for us that the Church devotes a season every year in which she stresses the importance of hoping in God’s love. I agree completely with St. Paul that of faith, hope and love, the greatest is love. St. John of the Cross’ comment that in the evening of our lives we will be judged on how we have loved is profoundly true, but it is also profoundly true that in the evening of our lives, and indeed throughout our lives, we are called to hope and trust in God’s love for us.

I very much like Downey’s phrase “the geography of grace” and I am hoping that during this season of advent, the season of hope, that geography of grace will become more real and meaningful to us. It is so easy to become narrowly self-preoccupied, self absorbed and self- fixated.

Advent is an opportunity to allow the Lord to broaden our horizons, to deepen our interest in building the Kingdom and to help us transcend our self-fixation.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).