“This is where I want to live!” said one of the people in a group I facilitate when asked to reflect on the question, ‘Where do you find God touches you?’ She had been reflecting on her experience of walking in the country lanes and fields around her new home. Others spoke of how they experienced closeness with God when they were with their children and grandchildren. Another also spoke of being close to God as he celebrated Mass. All were able to realise the intimate touch of the Divine through their encounters with something beyond themselves.
In Christian terms, these may be described as sacramental moments – inner experiences consequent to external encounters. But, if the experience is only realised by the encounter, it has only a superficial effect and once the encounter has passed, so does the experience. It is like passing through a beautiful room which, once we leave, is but a pleasant memory.
Yet at the heart of our Faith is an invitation to live in that room. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
‘Earth’s crammed with Heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes …
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries’
The Scriptures are full of invitations to consider where we want to live: ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ (Deut. 30:19,20)
This sense of having a choice in the matter of where we want to ‘live’ is clearly expressed in this passage. There is an invitation to live in the place where we encounter and can ‘hold fast’ to God and it is clear that, whilst the invitation is connected to an external place (the Promised Land), it is an inner choice we have to make. We need to locate our attention to that inner place of encounter with God and live out of that place. It is often described as the ‘heart’ or the ‘centre of our being’; the deepest place within us where our spirit connects with God. It is the place from which we naturally pray, where our deepest desires emerge and can be expressed to God.
Jesus frequently directs our attention to this inner place where we touch the immensity of God’s life: ‘whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ (Matt.6:6) He also presents this invitation in a powerful way in the story of his encounter with a woman at Jacob’s Well at Sychar, in Samaria: "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." (John 4: 13/14) By directing her attention to an inner spring of water Jesus places that image before us and reminds us that we can choose whether or not to live, to centre our life, there. And, like any spring, the more pure this ‘heart-space’, the more we shall ‘see’ God (Matt.5:8)
This is where I want to live!