Awareness of being with God, and God’s surrounding us, tends to get squeezed out. But how can we give God to others if we do not nourish him within our own hearts night and day?
As in every other area of life, regular exercise makes a huge difference in performance. After lots of repetition, actions become second nature. People who have practiced them for some time do not need to think about them, they find themselves doing them for the pleasure of it.
1. If you are an atheist, in your view there’s no God to answer prayer, so prayer is useless. This may be what you believe, but try something else, as a challenge. Every evening say a prayer, asking God to guide you in what you ought to do next. This prayer requires no words. Just empty mind and heart for less than a minute. Do this for two weeks, just to give it a fling. If you hear nothing and learn nothing, you will not be surprised. So it’s harmless.
2. In the first moments after getting up, maybe when brushing your teeth, ask God to accept every breath you take during the day to come as a prayer. Tell him you mean every thought and action of the day to be a prayer. Ask him to help you all through the day to think sometimes of his presence.
3. Choose another action that comes just a few moments after that kissing your children, or pausing for a quick hug from your spouse as you part for the day, or perhaps the moment of turning your car keys in the ignition, or looking in the rear view mirror say another little prayer. Offer the day to God again. Ask him to take care of all of you all through the day. Pray for the needy, those who suffer, those who fight for life. Just a fleeting thought will do. Just to remind yourself of the immense spiritual struggle going on all around you. And to attune your own inner heart to that struggle in your own life.
5. Every time you hear a police or ambulance siren, say a swift prayer for those who may be suffering terribly at that moment, and ask God to be with them, and to be present to you too. Unite your own life to their suffering. In the suffering of Jesus on the cross. All of us, one.
6. When you are impatient, stuck waiting in line or in traffic, make the very most of this time by recalling God’s presence, with gratitude.
7. “Where there is charity and love, there God is.” All day long, every time you see an act of affection, friendship, or kindness, let it remind you that God is all around you. Where there is love, there God is. Moreover, love is contagious. The more of it you throw in the waters around you, the more caritas will ripple outwards. Little smiles and little pats on the back go on and on until they go round the world. Receiving kindness, people tend to pass it on. As Dostoevsky wrote, there is an invisible current of “humble charity” circling around this planet, moving love from one place to another.
Another exercise is to recall often that you are “made in the image of God.” God is infinite, and so in order to reflect all the facets of his beauty, an infinite number of humans is needed (so to speak), each to reflect a fragment of his loveliness. If one of these humans is eliminated, that facet of God’s beauty is missing. The image of God is disfigured. That is one more reason why it is so awful to harm another human being.
The consequence is that each time we meet a human being, even an unpleasant one, we are invited to look more carefully, to see if we can discern what is most beautiful somewhere within him (though it may need to be drawn out), that God placed there in love for him, and to render him a (perhaps hidden) image of Himself.
This habit makes every human being that we meet a reflection of God’s radiant being, worthy of our attention and our love. Each human encounter also makes us aware of the presence of God. “How do we know that we love God?” St. John’s Epistle asks. The test is a simple one. Just saying the words “I love you” is not enough. The key is this: “if you have love for one another.”
Michael Novak, winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize in Religion, is the author of some 45 books, including two novels and one small book of verse. His latest is Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is. He is of Roman Catholic faith and was Ronald Reagan’s ambassador to three human rights sessions in Geneva and one session of the Helsinki Round meetings in Bern in the 1980s.
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