By Amber Kinloch
Recently, I’ve been focusing on the theme of the Presence of God while praying the Joyful Mysteries. Maintaining a sense of God’s Presence throughout the day is, I think, the key to attaining holiness in ordinary life. What is holiness but allowing God to form Himself in our lives so that all we do is truly His? And if holiness is indeed that, how can we aspire to it if we aren’t aware of His Presence in daily life?
In sharp contrast to us, Mary lived her life in full union with God. The Joyful Mysteries illustrate this par excellence. Here are some points we might reflect on.
The Annunciation: It All Begins with Prayer
Roman Catholic artists traditionally depict Mary at prayer at the moment of the Annunciation. On the other hand, the Eastern Orthodox hold the traditional belief that Mary was fetching water from the village well when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Whatever the case, we can be sure of one thing: Mary’s heart was recollected and focused on God.
Prayer is where everything should begin for us. Prayer—that is, talking with God. Too often, we skip over this. We set about crafting and executing grand plans, and it’s only when we’re in trouble that we turn to God for help. We seize the lead and ask God to bless our plans, instead of consulting Him first about His Will. No wonder we land in such messes!
Mary truly prayed. She listened to God and sought His Will first. It didn’t matter whether it was formal prayer or not; she was always focused on God.
This can sound quite difficult to practice, but it’s not. As Carryl Houselander explains: “[we] pray without ceasing, not by a continual effort to concentrate our minds, but by a growing awareness that Christ is being formed in our lives from what we are” (The Reed of God, pg. 62). Think of a woman carrying a child. She’s not constantly thinking about her child, but she always has an awareness of her baby’s presence. We should have a similar awareness of God’s Presence.
What are our hearts focused on during the day? What or who is at the center of our thoughts? Do we combat distractions and strive to transform our work into a prayer? Do we strive to keep our wills aligned with God’s? Or are we holding back in some way, preventing Him from asking greater things of us?
The Visitation: Manifesting God’s Presence to Others
Right after the Incarnation takes place, Mary sets out in haste to visit Elizabeth, bearing the unborn Christ within her. Her and Christ’s mutual presence provokes a tremendous joy in the unborn John the Baptist. He leaps in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out with joy at the wonder of Mary, the “God-Bearer,” coming to visit her.
We should imitate Mary and bear God’s Presence within us to wherever we go—our homes, our offices, the store, our neighborhoods. We needn’t always speak of His Presence. In many cases, we might not even get a chance (e.g., in a passing conversation with a neighbor or clerk.) Yet if we are striving to live virtuous lives, God will reveal His Presence to others through our smile, our words and tone, our way of bearing ourselves, and all our doings.
Most of the time, we might not be aware of how God is communicating with others through us. God often keeps His communications “secret” while employing a human ambassador. Likewise, others might not realize that God is speaking to them in a particular moment. Yet they instinctively perceive His Presence “in the way that the bud knows the presence of the light, by an unfolding in themselves, a putting forth of their own beauty” (The Reed of God, pg. 63). This beauty might not be manifest exteriorly, but deep in their soul, they feel a change without knowing why.
The Nativity: God with Us in Suffering
Everything was an apparent mess the night Jesus was born. Mary, worn out from a long journey, has no better place than an old stable full of smelly animals in which to give birth. Her newborn Son she lays in a crude wooden manager instead of the sturdy cradle Joseph might have fashioned. In the town of Bethlehem, everyone slumbers in their beds, oblivious to the presence of the newborn Christ. How can God permit the Holy Family to be subject to such suffering?
Yet Mary is at peace. Humanly speaking, everything has gone wrong. But amidst the cold and dirt of poverty, she and Joseph have Jesus. His Presence is enough.
What about us? Do we remain serene amidst crosses and contradictions, content that God is with us? Didn’t God say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…. Blessed are they who mourn…” (Matthew 5:1-11)? It’s in such circumstances that God tends to be most powerfully present if we remain attuned to Him. Do we? Or do we let worries and anxieties distract us from God, source of all our joy?
The Presentation: Amidst the Hustle and Bustle
Mary and Joseph go up to the Temple for Mary’s ritual purification and to present Jesus to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice of two turtle doves as the Law requires (Luke 2:22-24). People move in surges around them, hustling about, attending to their own business. Nobody takes much note of the young couple and their baby, apart from Simeon and Anna.
Luke records that Anna came forward “and began to praise God and speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). Did anyone pay heed to her words? Or did they just cast a curious glance at Jesus before heading on their way?
God slips into our lives every day in quiet ways, just like He did in the Temple. He speaks to us through a song or painting, a smile, a passing word or thought. The ordinary is not a distraction, but yet another place to encounter Him. Do we see it that way? Do we seek Him there? Or are we too busy bustling about our own business to spare a thought for God?
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Not Leaving God Behind
Often, without noticing it, I leave God behind during the course of my day after daily Mass. I forget about the resolution I made not to squander time, and I spend half an hour scrolling through news sites. I put off my primary duties and procrastinate with trivial tasks. I don’t stop to pray the Angelus at Noon because I’m “busy.” “It’s nothing serious,” I think. “I’ll still get the important stuff done.”
Late afternoon rolls around and I’m feeling discouraged. No major disaster has taken place, but everything feels like it’s gone awry. Even if I’ve accomplished a lot, I feel bored or dull. The color’s gone out of my life without Jesus present.
It’s then that it’s time to seek Him, like Mary and Joseph. Perhaps, like them, I start by looking in the wrong places. Yet when all seems lost, I know I can surely find God in prayer and the sacraments, just as Mary and Joseph found Him in the Temple.
Upon finding Jesus, I hear Him say, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” Here is my solution to not losing Him again. As long as I’m about God’s business, I will have Jesus with me too. It’s when I go my own way, assuming that He supports it, that I lose Him.
Amber writes from the bunker of her living room. There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life. Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.
Excellent reflection from St. Joseph’s Shelf, once again. A book recommendation of mine on this topic is the classic “The Practice of The Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. God Bless, Deacon Tom
Thank you, Deacon, for your kind feedback and the book recommendation. I’ll add it to my reading list. 🙂
A beautiful and thoughtful meditation. I received a copy of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence as a confirmation gift from my mother. Thank you, Amber. Bill Baer
Well, there’s two suggestions to read Brother Lawrence’s book. I’d best get a copy. 🙂
I’m glad, too, that you enjoyed the article. Thank you for reading!