It is so nice to sit in the quiet. I started a reflection time in my office, and as soon as I got still and tried to focus my thoughts on the Lord, I began to be distracted by the voices all around me. The walls of my office are apparently thin, as I could detect even subtle nuances to the conversations happening in other offices…and I had to escape. So here I sit in a room that many on our campus don’t even know about, and though I can hear the routine movement of cars outside, the quietness brings peace.
The peace would not last for long, I knew, as I had many things to attend to that day: the budget proposal, the imminent switching of student sections, the necessary parent phone call, the countless impromptu conversations…but in these few minutes of quiet, I wanted to relish the presence of the Lord.
Twenty years ago I participated in a training for those who were training others in leading a camp Bible study. The presenter led us in an exercise called “Practicing the Presence of God” that I have never forgotten. It involves sitting quietly in reflection and envisioning the Lord as He ministers to you. You are supposed to imagine His posture, His appearance, and His words as you bask in His presence.
I can’t remember what, specifically, was going on in my life during that weekend, but I remember very clearly how palpably I felt the Lord’s presence as we did the exercise. So I tried it on that morning.
I am at a very different place in life now than I was twenty years ago. I am now middle-aged, a husband and father, a leader in my line of work. The personal challenges of twenty years ago have not all gone away; they have just increased. Life is much more complex now. So I guess it is no surprise that it was harder to envision the Lord’s presence on this morning than it was back on that winter day in early 2000.
But it did come. I had to plead with the Lord repeatedly to help me focus. I had to consciously shut out the noise. And I had to rely on what I knew about God and not on what I felt. But I was able to practice the presence of God.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that “the Holy Spirit over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” This picture of God as a mother bird is the one that inhabited my thoughts this morning. God—with His wings outstretched—covered the whole word, in my imagination. There in the shapeless void hovered the Holy Ghost, watching over this planet that we call home. It seems ironic that there is so much war and bitter conflict and hatred when such a loving Father is brooding over the world. It is our sinfulness, though—and not His goodness—that creates the turmoil. In God there is peace.
I envisioned that same God with His wings outstretched over our country. At a time when we desperately need Him and often feel that He is silent, He hovers over us, protecting in ways that we cannot see and loving us even when we allow the worst of our humanity to show. In my mind, God’s wings spanned our country from coast to coast, guarding each state and each city and each town and each home and each family and each individual. And I was reminded of His sovereignty that does not change with election cycles, Supreme Court nominations, violence in the streets, a lack of respect and human decency.
I then saw that same God with His wings outstretched over my home. Protecting my wife and my children and me from the wiles of Satan, my loving Father guarded us like a mother bird guards her young. I saw my children, playing outside in the front yard, and my wife, doing her daily work to make our family function. I saw myself, trying my best to meet each one of their needs and failing miserably in doing so because that’s not really my job. It is His. The One with His wings of protection outstretched, who is providing peace at every turn.
And finally I envisioned that same God with His wings outstretched over my heart. He was smaller now, not because He had diminished somehow, but because His wings needed to wrap completely around my heart to shield them from the world, and the most effective way to make that happen was for His size to become proportional in that moment. I have been wrestling a lot lately with my own shortcomings and the ways that I don’t measure up. And in that moment this morning, I saw the holy presence of the Most High covering those inadequacies and giving me peace.
The day turned out to be no less hectic than usual. As soon as I came out of my time of reflection, I was faced with a dozen things that needed my attention. But somehow, even those few moments of contemplating God’s presence had calmed my spirit, helping me to keep all of those demands in proper perspective. As I walked through that day, I remembered that warm breast of the Father that draws me close and those ah! bright wings that encompass me.