God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.
I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said.
God in my life
At the door, parishioner greets the preacher…
“Thank you so much for that powerful sermon. When you began by saying ‘Let us pray,’ that really struck me. It made me think about my need to pray, how amazing it is that God wishes us to pray. It was so impactful. In fact, I didn’t hear anything else you said.”
I was reminded of that story in Morning Prayer last week. We begin that service with the confession, and we begin the confession with three words: “Most merciful God.” For some reason, after reciting that confession many times. I stopped at that first line, meditating on what those three words mean, how much they convey. In those three words, there’s a world of theology. There’s a creed.
Those three words remind me that I am called to live my life not solely as a free agent, as a matter of my own choosing, my own preferences on what it means to be ethical or good or successful. Those choices have everything to do with life lived in a relationship with a living God who calls me to a particular path, a way of life, who calls me to obedience.
The good news, of course, in that three-word creed is that we pray to a God whose quality it is always to have mercy. That opening line suggests an expansive theology of grace through which, as Rob Bell says, there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. As intro to the confession, it also invites reflection on our actions and attitudes. It challenges us to mindfulness, remembering that our lives unfold in God’s presence, that our lives are meant to move into deeper union with God and neighbor, that we have both freedom and responsibility in that relationship. We confess the ways in which we block growth in that relationship. We confess in order to go deeper in love of God and neighbor.
There’s a similar reminder in the first few words of the Lord’s prayer. It begins: Our Father who art in heaven. There’s a lot of theology in those few words as well. Meditate on all that phrase means. We are called to live our lives, to express our concerns to a transcendent God miraculously engaged in our lives, to a God who exists in that reality we call heaven. Sure, we now see through a glass darkly and don’t know what that celestial reality is like. We get only inklings, but we also claim it as foundational reality for all of life, all our prayers, all our hopes. God, in his heaven, is interested in our daily bread, in our temptations, in our ability to forgive. That’s quite amazing actually.
Maybe all of this sounds basic and obvious. But I know for myself, I often live as a functional atheist, forgetting or ignoring God’s presence. I often refer to a letter that Evelyn Underhill wrote in the 1930’s to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She was concerned about what she observed in the clergy of the day. A key line in that letter: God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God. I have wondered what compelled her to note that God is the interesting thing about religion. Had the clergy forgotten? I wonder how I might be like those clergy, worrying about to-do lists, about how people perceive and receive me, about temporal measures of success, pushing aside awareness of God’s loving presence, as creator, redeemer, sustainer, forgetting to give thanks for the amazing grace of a most merciful God.
A colleague describes that growing relationship as follows. If our spiritual journey is like a road trip, sometimes we act as if we drive the car all alone. The journey is up to us. Sometimes as we drive, we stop for directions or fuel or snacks, maybe getting a dose of religion to keep us going, but not overdoing it. Maybe God is actually in the car with us in the passenger seat, God as our co-pilot. Or maybe God is actually driving the car and we travel with God leading the way, God at the center. It’s not a perfect analogy, but makes me ask: where is God in my life’s road trip?
A friend once hosted a dinner for co-workers. Most were not religiously observant. She invited them, giving them a heads-up that dinner conversation would be about each guest completing this sentence. God in my life… Much to her surprise, everyone had a story. As you reflect on your life this week, what does it look like to live in the presence of a most merciful God, a Father in heaven? What would you say if you had been invited to that dinner party?
Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).
RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.
Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor. Learn more at renewalworks.org