As someone who works in the field of spiritual formation, I am constantly concerned with providing people space to ask the question, “Where is God in this?” It has now been three months since the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly and noticeably across the United States.
With many of our plans canceled, our schedules cleared, friends and family members distanced from us, we may have found ourselves forced to confront a slower pace. Where is God in this slower pace of life?
In the slowness, gradualness and perhaps even boredom, God is still with us. Though our lives might be primarily stripped of normality, God does not depart from us. Reading the signs of the times through the lens of the church’s liturgical calendar, we can recognize that the feast of Pentecost calls us to notice this.
At Pentecost, God sends the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to fulfill Jesus’ promise to the apostles in the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Because of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost, we know that the triune God remains with us, no matter what situation in which we find ourselves.
So, what does it mean to say that God is everywhere? It means that we reframe our original question of “Where is God in this?” to the same question that the psalmist asks in Psalm 139: “Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?” (Ps 139:7).
Not only is God everywhere, but God also pursues us from every direction, inviting us to deeper relationship and communion. Most especially, God pursues us through the things that are most often right in front of us.
God pursues us in creation. The Book of Proverbs speaks of wisdom, a biblical image for the triune God, as playing in creation (Prv 8:30).
How often do we stop to consider that God plays before us, like a trusting child before her mother, seeking our delight through the play of creation, of beautiful sunsets, fresh snowfall or the improbability of the sun shining through a rain shower?
God also pursues us through other human beings, as Jesuit Father Gerard Manley Hopkins notes in his poem “As Kingfishes Catch Fire”: “For Christ plays in ten thousand places,/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ to the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
How does God pursue you in your friends, spouse, the marginalized or your children? Do you realize that Christ appears in their faces?
Perhaps the invitation that the pandemic presents to us is to rediscover this fact: that God is everywhere. In other words, perhaps the pandemic gives us the time and space to develop sacramental vision: to glance more intensely, more lengthily, at the things in our everyday path and consider how God is pursuing us through them.
Like our understanding of the sacraments, created things can mediate God to us; however, are we truly paying attention?
While stay-at-home orders continue for some and gradual reopening begins for others, we can attune our eyes for sacramental vision by lingering for just a while longer on the grass and dirt beneath our feet, our relationships with others, the food we prepare and our free time.
This sacramental vision not only allows us to recognize God in all things but also transforms us through our response. The more we notice God, the more we can become like God, no matter what is taking place in our world.
As St. Vincent Pallotti reminds us: “Seek God and you will find him. Seek God in all things, and you will find him everywhere. Seek God at all times, and you will always find him. We must inhale and exhale God. Then we will radiate God’s presence.”
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(Campbell is coordinator of formation programs at the Catholic Apostolate Center and a doctoral candidate in catechetics at The Catholic University of America.)