Every Word You Say
How do we live with a sense of God's endless presence?
One of the interminable series of 80s nostalgia trips on TV recently nominated Every Breath you Take by the Police as the nation’s favourite number one of the decade. Really? There was always something fairly creepy about the lyrics:
Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you
In an era of stalking, Sting’s anthem to obsessive love seemed to cross a boundary. Today it is routinely used as backing music for any media story on the surveillance society which advances without much debate into more areas of our personal space.
The writer of Psalm 139 said to God:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
This cry of existential discomfort led the Psalmist to say: such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. And he had no idea just how big creation really is, how even the faintest glow in the Hubble telescope lens is a place both made and loved by God.
The sense of God’s all-embracing presence has the capacity to liberate us into a place of joy and spontaneity, but depends on our understanding of his character. Many people carry a highly punitive and unforgiving picture of God in their minds more in keeping with Sting’s song than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This deformed image can cripple a person with a pervasive and unresolved sense of guilt and a misplaced desire to keep God at arm’s length. God’s goodness, generosity, kindness and fidelity to us – in spite of our failings – are the grace we are called to live in. There is love in abundance for his children, not judgment without mercy.
The other inhibiting factor is the difficulty we find in practising the presence of God. This has never been an easy task in any era, but the wall of sound and distraction which defines ours has made it especially challenging. Our minds occasionally grasp God’s presence, but mostly we muddle through our days with cluttered, anxious brains. God is like the dust particles which surround us at home. From time to time the light shines and exposes the dust and we marvel at their pervasiveness; mostly we forget they even exist. God has sprinkled our lives with grace and love but we frequently take this environment for granted.
Those who sacrifice some of the time in their day to be consciously present with God develop poise and a presence of their own which is marked and influential; the Holy Spirit’s renewed presence in them becomes contagious in company. It is not possible to place a value on this discipline.
Yet even these people are usually left with a sense of incompleteness; a necessary feeling that there is always more of God to absorb, to cherish and to express. In this journey we should not condemn ourselves for this lack. Marriage is the best earthly metaphor for our relationship with God; a covenant of grace and love. Yet even the happiest married people do not go about their lives each day with an unbroken sense of their spouse’s presence. We know we are in relationship with them, that their love supports and nourishes us and that we are joined to them joyfully for life, but we do not think about them every single moment of the day. They are simply present in our lives in an indefinable way and from time to time we talk about them with others even when we are not talking to them ourselves.
God has always been there. He is just as much there when we forget about him as when we talk to him. And he surrounds our human limitations with his endless love.
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