Finding God – Raised Catholic episode 19

The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Today is episode 19: Finding God

These days, in the wake of more than a year of pandemic, racial injustice, upheaval, isolation and much more, people are tired and overwhelmed and we’re working to unpack the real trauma we’ve experienced as well as the change we hope to see.  As a result, I believe people are seeking God maybe more than ever before in our recent history, but as churches of all denominations might be able to tell you, they are not necessarily finding Him in church.  This is not to discount the beauty of the mass or being a part of a church community, not at all, but the reality is that today, many are seeking God, but they are just not sure where to look, for a lot of reasons. If that resonates with you, or even if you are attending a church service of any kind these days, this episode is for you.  Today I’d like to talk about the places where I’m finding God that are not within the walls of a church.

If you were born and raised Catholic, you may have received in CCD or Catholic School the idea that “church is God’s house”, and that is true, of course, but it would be kind of crazy to think that church is the only place that God lives, that the God who created the universe and every element of nature and every person who ever existed may only be found locked within the doors of a church, particularly a specific denomination of church – but that’s another episode.

As one of my favorite priests, Fr. Frank McFarland used to say, we live in God like we live in the air, and that means – God. Is. Everywhere.  The poet Mary Oliver has a beautiful way of finding God in the details of nature.  In her poem ‘The Summer Day’ she writes:

“Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.”

Hmm, I love that. 

Lately I am finding God in flowers.  This year, I can’t pass a spring flower without taking its picture and they are so over me, like they’re like, “Stop!  Enough already.”  I’m obsessed by flowering trees and the perennials which grew all winter long completely on their own, being so strong, resourceful and amazing, and somehow, they know that now is the time to pop up and bloom. Don’t even get me started about phlox, those little white and purple flowers that spread out over rocks through a cold winter and pop out this time of year just looking like the prettiest carpet you’ve ever seen. At this very moment, I have cherry tree petals literally falling on me like I’m in a movie or like the sweetest rain shower, and all of this speaks to me of God’s creativity, His love of diverse color and variety, His abundance, and His pattern of working in seasons: life follows death, restoration follows pain, the reality of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the long arc of the moral universe.”  And as I look up at a bright blue sky colored with flowers, I think to myself – there didn’t need to be trees as part of God’s creation and they didn’t have to burst out in flowersshowing themselves stunning against a spring blue sky before their leaves grew in for the summer, but here we are, basking in the beauty that God made just for us.  

I find the goodness and bigness of God in the things He’s made, like the spinning planet we live on that’s tilted at just the right angle to support human life, or the fact that there are 7,500 varieties of apples growing on our planet right now, or the absolute beauty of a cauliflower cut in half.  I frequently shake my head in wonder in the produce aisle of a grocery store – it is all so beautiful! And just as you can learn something about an artist from each painting or photograph or sculpture or song or quilt that she makes, each element of God’s creation is preaching something about Him, too, and it just takes open eyes and a look around to begin to see it.

I see God in the way a Dad picks up his little kid to dunk a basketball because this is the way God helps you and I do impossible things, too – by lifting us up but somehow letting us believe we’ve done it all on our own.  I see God in how a friend texts to check in just when you need her the most, and this reminds me that God sees me and is in my details.  I see God in my dog’s soulful eyes and on bridges and beaches and grocery stores because He’s in all of those places, whispering wisdom about how we are connected and the importance of patience and how a kind word can communicate divine love.  I’ve learned lessons about how God works from the stains on a sweatshirt, the sections of an orange, the sound of three bells in a particular piece of music I love. He spoke to me in a terrible bout of poison ivy, the encouraging words of my kids’ cross-country coach, a scaffolding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, the annoying sound of a piano being tuned, and while waiting in line at a wake.  And I’ve written about all of these things and many more for years at my blog called My Little Epiphanies and I have found that looking for God in the details of life – this has helped me to realize: there is literally nowhere you can go that God is not.

When I meet God face-to-face one day, I imagine it will sound like the last two minutes of the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, where you hear something like a rainbow breaking through the clouds.  Or maybe it will look like the first peaks of granny smith apple green leaves against a bright blue April sky.  Maybe it will taste like a perfectly ripe peach or a thin slice of Irish cheddar.  Or maybe it will feel like holding an entirely contented two-month-old baby, or maybe it will feel like being held like a baby.  So many of our experiences here are pointing us to something much larger than ourselves. C.S. Lewis called our earthly existence a shadowland, a place where the very best things that we love and enjoy only hint at what is to come. 

I’ve experienced God many times in the lit-up eyes of my preschool music students, in the flash of inspiration on a run, in works of art, in the sun peeking above the horizon, and even on the deathbed of my mother.  Right at this very moment, I’m experiencing His steadiness and masterful design in the feeling of my own heart miraculously beating on its own, a bee buzzing around my yard busy making the sweetest food that never spoils, by the way, and my pup is soaking Him in like sunlight on the warmest spot she can find. 

So no, God is not limited to the walls of a church.  And if our goal is holiness and a personal relationship with a big God, we should remember that it can and should be nurtured for more than an hour a week at church. With an open heart and mind, we can experience Him literally anywhere because, remember, we live in Him like we live in the air. He’s with me as I’m speaking these words, and He’s with you too, as you’re hearing them. Right this very minute, wherever you are.

In today’s show notes, I have resources that will help you experience God outside the walls of church.  And I’ve included journal prompts, music, art, podcasts, poetry, books, and much more but the very best recommendation I have for you today is to keep your eyes and ears open.  If you’re looking for God today, I promise you, you can’t miss Him.

As we close today let’s consider prayer from the words of another Mary Oliver poem called ‘Praying.’  This reminds me that prayer, like relationship with our loving God, can and should happen literally everywhere and anywhere.  And, here it goes.

“It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”

Gosh, isn’t that beautiful? Okay, friend, let’s get out there and find our very big God at work, and I’ll see you next time. 

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