Back when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his first term of office as President of the United States, Sister Christine Marie, O.P. was teaching the first grade at St. Thomas the Apostle school back home in New York City. Along with spelling penmanship and hygiene each school day we had catechism class.
Somehow through the ages I have retained the memory of one of those classes very clearly. The question in the catechism was: Where is God? The answer was: God is everywhere. I am still trying to find out what that means. I don't think it was a problem for the 57 of us back in the first grade. And it isn't a problem for me now. It is just that through the years, with hours of philosophy classes, prayer, and the experience of life in general I have become aware of the richness of both the question and the answer as well as of so much we do not know of either.
People have told me how they have found God while walking in the woods, skiing down a mountain, or holding a newborn baby. I can understand this. I have been there. Someone also told me that if I were looking for God, one of the last places I would look would be in church. That one made me think. In the end I could also understand something of what the person was saying, and it made me sad.
Why would someone expect and experience God's presence in the woods, in the snow, and in a baby, and not in church?
Words like beauty truth goodness power strength generosity wisdom joy relationship meaning and love all come to mind as part of what all of us seek and need in order to be happy. The realities expressed by such words are to be sought and found both within ourselves and around us. They are not found all at once, as when we might buy a golf club and we get the whole club all at once, even though the club will grow in value and meaning for us as we use it to play the game, enjoy it, and let it tell us our game is improving or going down hill.
This is because a golf club is entirely physical, material. We, with our human capacity for this, add the other dimensions to the club, hope, joy, remembrance, etc.
The realities I mentioned as the object of the need and quest of each of us are spiritual realities. They manifest themselves and can be found in our behavior and experience in varying degrees. They are not locked into physical dimensions such as color and shape as the golf club is. Our share of wisdom hope love and goodness is limited but open ended. No matter how much love we have, we never have it all.
A golf club is always the same size and shape We want it for what it is, We protect it from being stolen bent or broken. Love, as a spiritual reality, open ended, can grow. We want it not only for what it is, but for what it can be. We protect what we have of it but we are always seeking more. We do not always need or want another golf club, but we always need more love.
One of the problems is we do not always realize this. It seems we sometimes assess having more things and physical pleasures as though in them happiness would automatically be ours. This would be like a person seeking to play a better game of golf who would buy more clubs rather than work on his or her golf swing or correct his vision. Though a club is part of a good game of golf it is not the game. A good game of golf is not in the club but in our use of it.
Now back to God. Where is God? God is everywhere. That statement has been, is, and always will be true, the same changeless ever-changing God is present always and everywhere at different times, in different places, and in different relationships with people. That is one way of saying we do not know exactly what we are saying when we speak of God. But we understand something of the truth in that profound statement by seeing something of a reflection of it in a golf club.
The club is the same all week as it sits in the trunk of our car as it is out on the course on Saturday mornings. Yet it is very much different in the two instances. We can say that God, in a somewhat similar way is the same yet different always and everywhere. Our golf club is always ours, wherever it might be, but it is especially our club when we are using it to play golf. So God is God always and everywhere. But God is especially our God. when we pray. And only when we pray. So if we can pray when walking in the woods, skiing down a mountain, or holding a newborn baby, our God is there. If we can pray in church, our God is there.
If we do not pray in the snow we do not find God there. If we do not pray in church we do not find God there. Some people have golf clubs they never use.
And when we pray in the snow it is not just the white of the snow we experience but the cold as well. When we pray in Church it is not just the walls that surround us but people and the relationships that call us to forgiveness patience trust hope generosity joy love and God.
Let's not just be there. Let us pray. And may God be present to us everywhere we go!