In Pursuit of the Spirit: God in the Midst


Sometimes I wonder if we make spirituality more complicated than it needs to be. We hear about or meet people who meditate for forty-five minutes each morning in total silence, people who spend half an hour in prayer every day, or read their Bible regularly, and those of us with busy lives, and busy minds, think wouldn’t that be nice? Or, good for them; or maybe someday; or that’s just not me. And then we dismiss spirituality and spiritual formation as something for others.

I do this. I sometimes feel like spirituality is all about practices and doing and time spent and commitment and all of the other things I currently feel as though I’m falling short on. I berate myself for not being more devoted to a spiritual practice or taking more time for silence or whatever, and then I forget about it and go back to living my life because frankly I don’t need guilt trips like that. And while I don’t want to be dismissive of practices or people who have time and desire to meditate or pray or read scripture, I do want to remind myself, and others, that spirituality is simpler than that. And far more complex. It is the whole of our lives, and practicing it can be as simple as noticing.

In my spiritual direction practice, I will often start a session by asking someone where they have noticed God since the last time we talked. Never has anyone reported a sighting of a white-bearded old man, or a handsome Jesus-esque figure. Seeing God isn’t about visions, and hearing God’s voice is rarely something we accomplish with our ears. Rather, seeing God and following God’s call is about looking for the places in our lives where wonder is present. It is about remembering times when the world took our breath away or we felt energized despite a lack of sleep. For me, God seems most present in moments when time seems to stand still, often for just a moment or two. A particularly beautiful sunset; getting into bed on a cold autumn evening when the sheets are flannel and the duvet is warm and snug; seizing on an idea that makes the project I am working on all fall into place; seeing my son for the miracle I sometimes forget that he is. While there have been big moments—moments that changed the way I view the world and my place in it—most of the time it is the little moments, the small things, that remind me of God’s presence and help me to follow in God’s path.

Too often, I think we make it more complicated than it needs to be. We expect visions of a man in white or voices that echo like thunder, and when they don’t appear we assume we’re just not called, not part of God’s vision. Or we assume that finding God means dedication and practice, silence, and time we simply cannot find, and so we give up on looking and listening for God. But God’s voice is rarely audible, and God’s presence is rarely ethereal. Rather, God’s voice is often the still small voice inside of ourselves, the gut intuition, or that abiding sense we feel every now and again. And God’s presence is far more often a fleeting glimpse of something sacred, something beyond ourselves, that draws us into wonder, or helps us pause in the busyness of life.

And so this week, as we are being bombarded by snow and wind and ice, as the learning curve of a new job and the realities of ministry’s ability to never, ever end threaten to overwhelm me, I remember that I’ve seen God in a few moments of sunshine outside when everything seemed to clear for a minute and life felt like it took a deep breath. I remember that I see God every time my son falls asleep next to me or snuggles in close to me. I remember that God is in the little things that see me through a long winter and a new job and a stressful life and I resolve (again) to spend more time in those places and moments—more time with God.

Blog-HeadShot-300x300Sarah Walker Cleaveland is a spiritual director, preacher, teacher, retreat leader, and writer. After graduating from Hobart & William Smith Colleges with a degree in religious studies, she spent two years working in Christian Education at a Presbyterian Church and a Presbyterian Retreat Center. She earned her M.Div. at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, married her husband Adam, then earned a Masters of Theology from Princeton Seminary. Adam serves as Associate Pastor at Winnetka Presbyterian Church in a suburb north of Chicago. Sarah is currently chasing their two and a half year old son Caleb and developing her spiritual direction practice.

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