The first way of learning to live with God so as to love Him dearly is to elevate the mind to Him through the visible things around us. Wherever we go, God is there: “If I ascend into Heaven, Thou art there. If I descend into hell, Thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.”
Whatever we look at, God is within it. Look at the sun. It brings light and warmth into our life. It reflects the goodness of God, who has created it. Gaze at the moon and the stars. They are the lanterns placed by God in the heavens to guide the weary traveler. Bless God who has made them, for the heavens and earth are full of His glory: “Look upon the rainbow, and bless Him that made it: it is very beautiful in its brightness. It encompasseth the heaven about with the circle of its glory; the hands of the Most High have displayed it.”
So, the beauty of nature reflects the beauty of God. For those who will not close their eyes, and who harden not their hearts, beautiful things are seen as the fingerprints of God. “A whirlwind and clouds are the dust of His feet.” All things are His messengers, making known His goodness, His justice, and His power.
Even commonplace things reflect God
Even the more commonplace things lead man to God. After eating a well-prepared dinner, most people sing the praises of the cook — and that is as it should be. But why not also praise God? He is the great Provider: from His hands all good things come, the food as well as the cook.
There is nothing more commonplace than sickness and death. They, too, can lead us to God. Some people face sickness and death with a resigned, hopeless attitude. It must come, they say, and there is nothing to do about it. Others become angry with God because He permits evil in their lives. A third class recognizes sickness and death as a warning from God, that here we have no lasting city. These people see the vanity of great wealth and earthly glory, which they cannot take with them. For this group, sickness and death become graces that lead them to think of God, to turn to Him, and to love Him above all the things of this world.
How foolish it is, then, to seek God first in the strange and spectacular. Rather, He is to be found in common, ordinary things. When God became man, He chose for His mother a quiet, unknown woman. His birthplace was not a palace, but a cave. During His life, He walked and talked with ordinary people. He chose fishermen as His companions. He did not dine with Herod, but in the homes of common people. He was crucified between two common thieves. He can be found where the unspiritual least expect to find Him — in common things.
Christ, always the great teacher, taught his Apostles to see and reflect on the attributes of God mirrored in commonplace things. “See how the lilies of the field grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more you, O you of little faith!”
In His parables, the Savior gave earthly things heavenly meanings: the kingdom of God is like a net cast into the sea, or a mustard seed, or a pearl. And St. Paul brought out the same idea, holding the pagans who did not believe in God inexcusable, “seeing that what may be known about God is manifest to them. For God has manifested it to them. For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen — His everlasting power also and divinity — being understood through the things that are made.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux admired the beauty of God and His glory as it was reflected in flowers. And even as a child, she was carried away by the power of God which she found mirrored in the sea. “I was between six and seven when I saw the sea for the first time. I could not turn away my eyes: its majesty, the roaring of the waves, the whole vast spectacle impressed me deeply and spoke to my soul of God’s power and greatness.”
And St. Ignatius counseled, with regard to the Jesuit students, that they should exercise themselves “in finding God our Lord in all things, in conversation, in walking, seeing, tasting, hearing, thinking, and, in fact, in all kinds of activity, for of a truth the majesty of God is in all things.” Is it not clear that even the most ordinary things in our daily lives can lift us up to God, who made them?
Needless to say, this exercise is not to be exaggerated. We would become nervous and distracted if we continually searched outside of ourselves for things and events that would remind us of God’s presence. We would soon acquire a strong dislike for this exercise. It is sufficient to raise our mind to God when the occasion offers itself. At times, the Holy Spirit will give us these thoughts, and it is then that we should willingly accept them, and never shut them out through our own fault. Progress will be slow at first, because our mind is not yet turned to God, but the more we turn toward Him, the more natural this act will become. Eventually, we will see the hand of God in all things, not only in the rhapsodic beauty of a spring day, but in common events — even in the evils of society and in everyday life.
Daily circumstances can remind you of God
A young college student once told me how he learned to think of God and pray to Him frequently. Every school day, he had to walk a mile and a half to class. Along the way, through the back streets of the city, over hills and down alleys, he met many people hurrying to work or to school. He would pray for the poorly clad or sickly, at the same time thanking God for his own better condition and health. When he passed churches, he thought of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. If there was time, he would make a visit; otherwise, he would think of Jesus as he passed by. He made short acts of adoration, thanksgiving, and petition.
It gave him special delight to say a prayer for small children playing near their homes or on their way to school. He sought God’s protection upon salesmen opening up their stores and upon businessmen hurrying to work. He prayed for non-Catholics and for their conversion as he passed their churches. He prayed for his teachers, his classmates, and for success in school. And, because he was a very normal young man, and quite attached to a young lady, his thoughts were often of her; he prayed that God would always bless her and that Mary would always protect her.
Naturally, he had many distractions on the way to school. Sometimes, companions would join him; sometimes, he would be lost in thought over a school problem or a football game. But he would always come back to think of God. His thoughts were passing; his prayers were short — most of them only a few words. On some days he prayed more than on others, but every day found him seeing God in the world around him.
Later, before he finished school, he was drafted into the army. Long nights of sentry duty found him alone with his thoughts. Here, the good habit of thinking of God brought comfort and peace to his heart. He prayed to God throughout the long hours of the night, as he walked along beneath the stars.
A train engineer once said that, during his many years of service, he never had an accident. In fact, his whole life was a blessed one. He attributed this blessing of God to an unwavering trust in His Providence. On his nightly run across the country, he passed many Catholic churches. In time he knew them all, and in each one he saluted his eucharistic King. As his train rushed on in the night, he thought of Jesus, who watched over each parish and town from the tabernacle. In many of the churches, he could see the light of the sanctuary lamp reflected on the stained-glass windows, and he would raise his heart in prayer: “O Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, all praise to Thee. Watch over Thy people, and watch over me and those whom Thou hast placed in my care.”
The young college student and the engineer were not far advanced in prayer. There was great room for progress. But they had begun well; with time, their love of God would grow.
What they learned to do, we also can do. Remember always that, wherever we go, God is there. Whatever we look at, God is within it. “For He is not far away from each one of us; in Him we live and move and have our being.”
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Healy’s Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.