Sometimes the title for a piece comes before the rest of my writing and tells me what I’m going to write. Other times it comes as the last thing. Tonight it’s the first. I thought about “Looking for God in all the Right Places,” but, then again, that’s the problem. People frequently assume that God is to be found in “religious” places, as though those were the places He would most like to hang around. There is a sacramental side to that – and many holy places are just that – holy places and have been places of pilgrimage and conversion.
But it can too easily be assumed that God is in those places and not in others – when in fact He is “everywhere present and fills all things,” (from the prayer, “O, Heavenly King”). Ignoring this is just another subtle way to create a two-storey universe or a bifurcated world, a world where God is in this place, but not in that. With such distinctions we’ll have recreated the entire mess of secularism.
The foremost place for finding God is within our own heart – for if we do not find Him there, we will likely not find Him anywhere. God is made known to us in Scripture, and yet a heart that rejects God, or a heart that harbors hatred, will not likely find Him there, either. The same is true of every “holy” place and every “holy” thing. In the Orthodox Liturgy the priest lifts the consecrated Body of Christ from the diskos and proclaims, “The Holy Things are for the holy.” This is a specific reference within the Eucharist, but it is also true generally in our lives. My heart doesn’t need to be perfect by any means, but there must be some corner, some place where I will welcome God for Him to enter into that most sacred of all created places, the human heart.
I have written over the past week about icons – they can be marvelous “windows to heaven,” but they will be opaque and closed to our viewing unless our hearts are ready to see. By the same token, and with much greater difficulty, God is present and made known to us in the most frightful suffering the world knows (as well as the less frightful) – for He is a God who has not absented Himself from human suffering but has, instead, united Himself with it. We have a tendency to see human tragedy and cry, “Where is God?” I think of this as standing before the foot of the Cross with the dead body of Jesus hanging on it and shouting the same. He is as present in all human suffering as He was and is in His suffering on the Cross. Again, it is a great heart that can see His presence in such circumstances.
Which brings me back to my title. We should be looking for God in all the right places – but if we have the eyes to see, we will understand that all the right places is all places. Thanks be to God.