Having conned his older brother Esau out of the family blessing, Jacob the deceiver had no other choice but to run. His brother was dead set on murdering him at the first available opportunity. His mother received word of this and passed on the news to Jacob. He immediately fled home to seek sanctuary with his uncle.
On the way to sanctuary the following event occurred:
He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place--and I did not know it!" And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:11-21)
Jacob's world was changed. A "certain place" - a place of no particular importance, so ordinary it remained nameless - served as the stage upon which God became present to Jacob. Jacob learned that though he had run from his family, he could not run from God: "Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go." In this ordinary place, heaven and earth intersected, interacted, overlapped. For the first time, Jacob realizes God's presence. His first words say it all: "Surely, the Lord is in this place--and I did not know it!" An ordinary place was transformed into the very gate of heaven, the dwelling of God. For this reason, Jacob named the place Bethel, which means, "the house of God," that is, the place where God dwells.
Whether we realize it or not, we live before God. All the ordinary places and events of our lives hold the potential to become houses of God, gateways of heaven. Every moment holds the possibility of revealing the hidden God in our midst.
God is personally interested in our daily lives. He knows how many hairs are on each one of our heads. He cares when a bird falls from its nest. He is the God of the ordinary. And God uses the very ordinary events of very ordinary days in extraordinary ways in our lives.
Our challenge is to intentionally live as if this is true - because it is! We are called, not just to believe in God (which can make little or no difference in our lives) but to live before God, which holds the potential to transform everything. Intentionally living before God in the ordinary prevents spirituality from becoming an escape from "real life." It unites the sacred and the secular in such a way that the secular is infused with the sacred, and the sacred is expressed in the ordinary.
This is the reason that knowing God's presence does not consist of an endless stream of ecstatic and extraordinary spiritual experiences: God wants us to learn to see him in the ordinary! God wants us to know and experience him in the good world that he has created. We will not be transformed in the whole of our lives if we only expect a small portion to be spiritual and the remainder to be secular. Only when all of life is seen as pervaded by God's presence can we begin to know God in and through everything we experience. Only then can we know Jacob's joyful surprise: "Surely the Lord is in this place--and I did not know it!"
Be Here Now: God in the Present Moment
Spending a day with God begins by recognizing that the practice is more about seeing things differently than doing different things. John Ortberg writes, "Spending the day with God does not usually involve doing different things from what we already do. Mostly it involves learning to do what we already do in a new way - with God."
This begins by viewing time itself in a new way by focusing on the present moment - no matter how ordinary - as the "certain place" where God is experienced. "This is the day that the Lord has made" (Psalm 118:24). This day, or more particularly, this very moment of this day is a gift from God. It alone possesses the capacity to connect us to God. The past is gone. The future has not yet arrived. The present is the "certain place" where eternity intersects with time, where heaven intersects with earth. The present is, technically speaking, the only moment we really possess. If we do not learn to meet with God in the present moment, we will never meet with God at all - for no other moment exists in which we can experience God.
This presents us with a problem for one very important reason: We all have trouble living in the present. On most occasions, our present is obscured by past regrets or future worries. Albert Haase explains,
To be a God-seeker demands that we be awake and alert to the here and now. Tragically, many of us suffer from what Merton calls "amnesia of the present."
Many people have lost touch with the present moment because they prefer to live in the past. They are forever mulling over yesterday--either regretting it, analyzing it or glorifying it with nostalgia. Sentimentality, regret and guilt are the prices we pay when the false self lives yesterday today.
Other people are always jumping ahead to the future: anxious about next weekend, planning next month, wondering about next year. With antacids in their pockets and ulcers in their stomachs, they race towards tomorrow! Anxiety and worry are the prices we pay when the false self lives tomorrow today...
Convinced that the real action is "someplace else," we rarely experience just this particular moment, pregnant with its own annunciations. We are not where we really are. And so, like the man at the symphony, we can't enjoy the music that surrounds us.
Since our experience of God is limited to the present moment, the most dangerous word in our vocabulary is "tomorrow." Waiting to seek God in the future has short-circuited the spiritual progress of many people. John Ortberg reminds us of this danger:
Most of us have set conditions in our minds, and we think that when those criteria are met, that will be the beginning of great moments. We think the great adventure of partnership with God lies somewhere in the future. We tell ourselves that we will grow closer to God someday when our kids are no longer small and demanding, or when the pressures of work lighten up, or when we become more disciplined, or when our motivation level is higher, or when we must magically grow into spiritual maturity.
Our potential to miss God in the moment is the reason the scriptures adamantly call us to listen to God in the present: "Today, if you hear God's voice..." (Hebrews 3:7, 15; 4:7). Holly Whitcomb summarizes this call in three words: "Be here now. This admonition asks us to live intentionally in the present, to focus on what is happening now."
A Day with God
We begin our day with God by considering the importance of sleep. One of the greatest barriers to spiritual growth is fatigue. The disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane were unable to support Jesus because of their weariness.
Due to lack of sleep, many of us sleepwalk through life, barely awake enough to enjoy it. We are too exhausted to focus on the present. Our goal is to survive until we can hit the sack and start the whole process over again. Though we refuse to change our lives, we vainly hope that tomorrow will be different.
Because of the necessity of a well-rested body to spiritual growth, we need to view sleep as a divine gift that should not be neglected. Stephanie Paulsell points out how counter-cultural this perspective is:
In a culture that celebrates achievement and gain, a commitment to getting eight or more hours of sleep each night can be viewed as a sign of lack of ambition, or even laziness....
Sleep researchers warn that chronic lack of sleep may harm our bodies as much as smoking. We cannot honor our bodies and deprive ourselves of sleep at the same time.
The psalmist writes, "It is vain that you rise early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives sleep to his beloved" (Psalm 127:2). Sleep is a gift God gives us, a gift that replenishes our bodies, renews our minds, and offers us the opportunity to begin life again every time we awaken.
This includes naps. We need not feel guilty for allowing ourselves to indulge in a few extra hours of sleep. Indeed, a nap can provide just the refreshment we need to begin seeking God afresh. Truly, sleep is for the body, but a nap is for the soul.
When we sleep we entrust our whole being to God. We admit that the world does not revolve around us, nor does everything depend on us. We can rest, knowing that our lives are in God's hands. As we slip into unconsciousness, doing nothing voluntary to support ourselves, we experience a "little death." We fade into unconsciousness - we die to the world and the world to us. We practice our inevitable future (that is, death) but not our ultimate destiny - a destiny that is reflected in our first act of a new day: waking up.
Waking up reflects resurrection to new life. As we arise from our "little death" into the light of a new dawn, we begin a new day. After giving thanks to God for protecting and sustaining us throughout the night (we ultimately did nothing in these areas), John Ortberg counsels that we follow the psalmists advice to lay our requests before God (cf. Psalm 5:3). He suggests three acts: (1) Acknowledge our dependence on God, (2) Tell God our concerns for the day and ask him to remove our fear and anxiety, and (3) Invite God to spend the day with us.
Bathing reminds us of our baptism. We have been cleansed by God. Our sins have been washed clean away. A hot shower or warm bath reminds us that we have been initiated into the divine embrace through the waters of baptism. It also reminds us that we stand in need of continual cleansing by God's Spirit. Because of this, John Ortberg suggests the following prayer: "God, just as this soap and water are cleaning my body, may your Word and your Spirit cleanse my mind and heart. Any impurities - whether wrong intentions, destructive desires, thoughts that lead me away from love and joy and courage - cleanse them entirely."
Eating throughout the day can serve as a celebration of communion with God and others. As our bodies are fed by food, so we are fed by the words of God, and ultimately, by the Word of God - Jesus Christ. As we remember God during our meals, food becomes a sacrament, a gift that continually reminds us of God's ultimate gift to us in the Son.
As we work throughout the day we are reminded that we are made in the image of God, and thus co-creators with God. Through our work, we are able to contribute to the common good. A Benedictine axiom states that "to work is to pray." Our work is sacred. It allows us to share our lives, our gifts, our talents, and our energy with others for the common good of all.
In the midst of a productive day, we must always remain open to others. This means that we must be ready for interruptions to our plans. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, "We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will constantly be crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and requests. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, like the priest who passed by the man who had fallen among thieves." Although not all interruptions are equally important, we must, like Jesus during his ministry, be open to them. "What would Jesus' ministry have looked like if he had never allowed himself to be interrupted? Many of his greatest miracles and most unforgettable encounters were Spirit-prompted interruptions."
At the end of the day, as we prepare for sleep, we can remember God's judgment by spending a brief time in self-examination. Where did we meet God today? How did we respond to God throughout the day? Where did we fall short? By performing this self-examination, we are preparing for God's final evaluation on Judgment Day. As one puritan put it, "The end of the day should remind us of the end of all our days."
With the day behind us, we can settle into our beds, and drift into unconsciousness, with confidence that God will protect and sustain us throughout the night. Once again we practice our "little death" so that over time we will come to view "death as not just a biological necessity but as God tucking us in at bedtime so that we can rise to new life in the morning."
This is just a small sampling of ways we can intentionally seek to experience God throughout the rhythms of a normal day.
It is obvious that the problem is not that God is absent, but that we often sleepwalk through the day, unaware of God's pervasive presence in all we do. As C. S. Lewis wrote, "We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognitio. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake."
If we open our eyes by faith, we uncover God in the ordinary. We say with Jacob, "Surely the Lord is in this place--and I did not know it!" Every place we go becomes our own personal Bethel - the house of God, the very gate of heaven. Along the way, we become living, breathing, walking, talking temples - temples not made of stone, but of human hearts. We become the house that God inhabits.
Who builds a church within their hearts
And takes it with them everywhere
Is holier far than they whose church
Is but a one-day house of prayer.
Lord, make me see thy glory in every place.
 John Ortberg, God Is Closer Than You Think: If God is Always with Us, Why is He so Hard to Find? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 72.
 Albert Haase Swimming in the Sun: Discovering the Lord's Prayer with Francis of Assisi and Thomas Merton (Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1993), 68-69.
 Ortberg, God is Closer Than You Think, 71-72.
 Holly Whitcomb, Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005), 42.
 Stephanie Paulsell, Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), 136-137.
 Ortberg, God is Closer Than You Think, 75.
 Ortberg, God is Closer Than You Think, 76.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1996), 99.
 Ortberg, God is Closer Than You Think, 79.
 Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You: "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 20.
 C. S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: Harvest Books, 2002), 75.
 Poem by Morris Abel Beer.
 Quote attributed to Michelangelo.
 Poem by Morris Abel Beer.
 Quote attributed to Michelangelo.
© Richard J. Vincent, 2007