Today’s Word: Gasp

Springfield (Mo) Botanical Garden. SJG photo.

“You were within, but I was without. You were with me, but I was not with you. So you called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness, you flared, blazed, and banished my blindness, you lavished your fragrance, and I gasped.” – St. Augustine, Confessions

I am up early this morning sitting on the back porch because, well, I can. Yesterday the St. Louis area was hit with a record 108 degrees, and the ever-present St. Louis humidity made it feel somewhere up around 113. Not fit for man or beast. It was hard to catch my breath and find good oxygen. Perhaps I need to evolve some gills to better snatch the oxygen out of the air. Yet I know this will pass, as this morning it already has…for a while at least.

Heatwaves, snowstorms and other extremes of nature have a way of getting our attention. They smack us across the face and remind us of the power, majesty and unpredictability of the earth. They recall for us of the continuing cycles of nature, of the gentle spinning and revolving of the earth around its axis and around the sun, taking us into and out of our days, nights, seasons and years. If we think we’re in control, we need to stop and think again. We’re along for the ride.

That’s a powerful message to take in, living in our “me” centered world where we are repeatedly tempted and urged to arise each day and ask: “what can I do for me today?” I don’t mean to suggest that that’s an entirely bad thing, of course. Sometimes we do need to take care of ourselves. Sometimes we need to focus on us. But neither are we called to be the center of our own universes. The weather reminds us of that, as should our lives of quiet contemplation, prayer, awareness and gratitude.

Even for those of us who profess to believe in God, that same God can often seem like the silent partner in our lives. Gifted spiritual writers throughout the ages have written about finding God in our quiet moments of prayer and contemplation, and I cannot argue with that. Indeed, that’s where I most often quiet myself long enough to locate this quiet God of my life.

Springfield (Mo) Botanical Garden. SJG photo.

But St. Augustine reminds us today that perhaps I am making God too hard to find, as if I believe I must somehow crack the code to perfect prayer and there — on the other side of some mystic door — find the divine, huddled in the corner playing hide and seek with us. God is not hiding, we are reminded. Like the weather, God is present and swirls around us. God is within us. God calls, shouts, tries to break through OUR deafness, flares, blazes, banishes OUR blindness, lavishes us with fragrances. This is not a God who does not want to be found. This is a God who desperately wants and demands out attention.

And there can only be one authentic response when we finally understand this: We gasp. We turn and say, “Oh my God, there you are!” We learn to see God where we didn’t see him before, in the wonder and weather of the earth, in our moments of peace and our instances of pain. We learn to speak as Jacob did when, sleeping on the hard ground somewhere in the middle of nowhere outside Beer-sheba, he finally realized that the holy is wherever we are:

Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it! How awesome is this shrine!
This is nothing else but an abode of God.
” (Genesis 28:16-17)

Ask yourself in silence: What is God doing to get my attention today?

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