I was leading a discussion on spiritual contemplation with a group of women living in a homeless refuge. Suddenly a lady interrupted me and said, 'You know, God is not here. He's over there.' Her tone was impassive and she was pointing out the window, to where a large church sits on a hill, looking down at the homeless refuge.
What followed was a lively discussion on the exact whereabouts of God. Everyone seemed to have a different idea.
Where is God?
Once my 3 year old daughter asked me that very question, 'Mummy, where is God?'
'God is inside you', I told her.
Bemused, my toddler thought for a while then concluded, 'So Mummy, I am God!'
'No, no, you're definitely not God' I quickly responded.
A few months later, on a bright Sunday morning, my daughter tilted her head to one side and fired her next question, 'Mummy, is God with everyone?' This time I tried to be wise and not give her a quick answer.
I also sought advice from my friend, Anna. We were sitting in a rustic Gold Coast café when I explained to her my daughter's question. Immediately Anna's eyes welled up with tears and she whispered 'God is not with everyone, not with me anyway'. Anna then told me that because she's a homosexual person she's been told over and over again that God is not with her. She left the Church for good a few years ago.
I felt for my friend that day. I wondered if telling people God is not with them is a pompous, disastrous idea. Perhaps, I thought, it's the church's job to love others without stopping to ask whether God is with them or not.
Besides, surely God is with everyone. The Scriptures say, 'Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence' (Psalm 139:7). Eventually I told my daughter that I did think God was with everyone. And I taught her this poem by St Patrick,
God beneath you,
God in front of you,
God behind you,
God above you,
God within you.
My little girl embraced this mysterious idea that God is everywhere with everyone. But then a few months later our chicken died. Distressed, she asked me, 'Mummy, why can't I see God?
I had no answer
I think God is often very hard to see.
Just before Easter this year I learned that I had cancer. As I was on the way to surgery my friend sent me a text message. It read: 'God is with you'.
Curious, I asked, 'So where exactly will God be?'
'God is the one standing in the corner giving you the thumbs up,' my friend wrote back.
I didn't see God in the operating theatre that day. Quite the opposite. The room was just filled with uneasiness and needles and a stoic surgeon. God seemed unfairly absent.
But surely God is somewhere
In the days I spent recovering, overwhelmed by pain and self-pity, I remembered my friend's text. So I frantically tried to recapture a sense that God was with me. I read. I prayed. I mediated. But it was futile. I had no energy.
I longed more and more for a definite experience of God's closeness. But all I seemed to experience was despair and a frustrating lack of sleep.
One sleepless morning I got up at 4 am and went outside. It was dark. There were few sounds outside, just the odd croaking of a toad. The air was fresh; stillness surrounded everything.
Suddenly the birds awoke and began chirping. Then there was this most wonderful moment where faint shades of pink and purple broke through into the dark morning sky. It was as if God was infusing His magnificent light into the world. I was struck by the sanctity of what was happening all around me.
Perhaps this is often the case. Perhaps I usually don't see God because I'm not awake. So it's my job to just wake up; to have a simple expectancy that God is here in all people and events and nature.
I also wonder if learning to 'see' does not occur instantly, rather imperceptibly, with small steps over many experiences. Likewise maybe an answer to my daughters question cannot be given in one afternoon but throughout a lifetime.
Danielle Carney lives on the Gold Coast and has a degree in Christian Theology and once worked for an inner city Church with a giant steeple. She spends her days leading small groups for homeless women on spirituality, losing debates to her toddler daughter, and trying to contain her overwhelming interest in Mystical and Monastic religion.
Danielle's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/danielle-stott.html