Simplicity & Beyond: Finding God in Present Moment

Fear lives in the psychological space where God is absent. Every second is a creation, an act of re-creation. God is recreating us and giving us the opportunity to be who He wills us to be. If you walk around with that thinking, you are never alone, and there is no space where fear can set in.   -Doctor Vladamir Zelenko

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear. 1: John 4:18

Have you noticed how your outlook completely changes over the course of a week or two?

I had a friend call me out of the blue a few weeks ago and we talked for over two hours. Her call felt like someone reaching out and taking my hand in the midst of a dense, impenetrable fog.

I had been in my room crying the night before; the sense of nowhereness this pandemic had thrown my life was at an all-time high. Plus, I was feeling the consequences for not playing along and getting vaccinated. The hatred came from all directions; friends and family members, the state, and the media.

And then, a few weeks later, she called again. And I was amazed at how much my mind-set had shifted in that short space of time. My life had energy and clarity and momentum that had been completely absent three weeks earlier.

Without paying attention to the details of our lives, it's hard to account for these shifts.

Recognizing God in the Present Moment

According to Zelenko, in order to meet God, all we have to do is Be. Here. Now. Remaining in this recognition comes with a great incentive: we live without fear! (Do you walk around acknowledging that you're never alone?)

If God is right here, he probably isn't keeping entirely silent.

How do we recognize this voice? And what, if anything, does He ask?

It's So Simple 

Many Doctors of the Church profess the simplicity of God.  

You are simplicity itself.   -St. Augustine 1

The nearer one gets to God, the simpler one becomes.   -St. Therese of Lisieux 2

God is no wise composite, but is altogether simple. Every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them; but God is the first being. Every composite has a cause, for things in themselves different cannot unite unless something causes them to unite. But God is uncaused.   -St. Thomas Aquinas 3

Simplicity, it appears, is a fundamental characteristic of this God who meets us here in the present moment.

This certainly provides clues on where not to look for God: in the complicated, the overwhelming, the confusing. Not in rambling words or complex thoughts.

How would a simple being communicate?

In all likelihood, with clarity. Startling, almost abrupt clarity. With direct words and phrases that get at the heart of the matter; Jesus often spoke like this.

And so identifying the simple in our day is one way to recognize God in them.

(As I've written about in a previous post, I think the simplicity of the Illumination of Conscience is one of the central reasons we can conclude it comes from God.)

It's Personal 

From my own experience and speaking to others, and from scripture, it's clear this communication is very intimate. Psalm 139 tells us:

Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. My travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, Lord, you know it all.

People are drawn to different spiritualities (Ignatian, Carmelite, Franciscan, Benediction) and devotionals based on their personalities, preferences, and cultural heritage. Some take great stock in dreams, or journaling as a way to pray. For others, it's far more intellectual.

That is to say, a prerequisite to hearing God speaking in the present moment is, as the Delphic maxim says, to know thyself. 

Also, we can anticipate communication from God will be very, very intimate: closer than a good friend.

It Brings Quiet 

It's very hard to distinguish between thoughts or messages that come from ourselves and those that come from God. St. Teresa of Avila wrote about this at length, with respect to discerning locutions. However, I think her criteria applies across the board:

The words the Lord speaks.......touch the soul, giving it light, favor and bring it quiet. 4

A fruit of God's presence is peace. And so looking for God in our day means identifying those people, situations, and encounters that bring about peace.

(Note: St. Teresa is VERY wordy, and so I truncated this quote without, I’d say, altering its meaning. The entire quote is in the footnotes.)

He'll Ask a LOT 

So God speaks to us simply and personally---and a fruit of this voice is peace.

But what of the substance of what he says? What does he ask?

Although scripture provides many answers to this question, Jesus provides one that applies across the board:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.   -Matthew 16:24

Must” indicates a fundamental requirement; the cross is part and parcel to being in relationship with Jesus. And so accepting the cross is a way to encounter God in the present moment.

Identifying one's cross (which difficulties to accept, which to avoid) is a discernment process. But any Christian can rest assured they'll be presented with one (or two).

Amidst the Cacophony

Oh, it's so basic, listening to your own life: noticing patterns, identifying relationships and how they affect us, noticing a shift towards or away from certain people and affiliations. Our dreams, sleep patterns, money spent, food eaten. All the incidents and circumstances in which God meets us.

Yet, with so much going on just in one single day, it's hard to filter through all the goings-on to identify the correlation, say, between a shift in mood and a program we listened to, or eating patterns and a stressful relationship.

That is to say, recognizing where God is and where he is absent necessitates a deliberate practice.

St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises merit a call-out here, although I don't profess to proficiently understand nor practice them. His examen, (done at the end of each day) is a practice of identifying moments of desolation and consolation; i.e. where God was either present or absent in circumstances, events, relationships.

One thing I never got about the examen is this idea that desolation is supposed to be a sign of God's absence. However, accepting a cross oftentimes yields despair and discouragement.

Anyhoo, for me, simply transcribing what occurred during a week, or over the course of a month, brings me to a more conscious awareness of all aspects of my life. Rather than simply shuffling through the events of the day, it forces me to pause and look at them.

Who has come into my life? What activities have I been drawn to? What, if anything, might God have been telling me in a dream, or through a series of coincidences?

It's VERY interesting to read back through these entries. I certainly notice developments over the course of several weeks or months. And the hand of God at work in ways that weren’t clear in the moment.

For example, during a year when I traveled the world, on three separate occasions I coincidentally ended up in a city where a friend or family member was visiting at the same time. This happened in Dublin, Porto, and London. It struck me as an uncanny coincidence in retrospect, and I interpret it as God providing me with companionship in a place where I'd otherwise have been on my own.

With respect to the episode I related at the beginning of this article: when I looked through everything that transpired during the three weeks in which my mood shifted so dramatically, I identified several things to attribute it to. One was registering to attend the Porcfest in June of 2022. Having a future plan, with people who are (hopefully) sympathetic to my POV, put a completely different framing around my circumstances.

Well, if you've followed my somewhat meandering thought process up to this point, then here you are.

What about you? Do you have any practices that you use to listen to God in your everyday?

1 The Confessions. St. Augustine, Chapter 4 

2Story of a Soul. St. Therese of Lisieux, Chapter 8

3 Summa Theologica Part I, Thomas Aquinas. 1213. Question 3

4 Volume 1: The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD & Otilio Rodriguex, OCD, 1976. Pg 163. “Another sign more noticeable than all the others is that these words composed by the intellect do not produce any effect. Those the Lord speaks are both words and works. And even though the words may not be devotional ones but words of reproof, they dispose the soul and prepare it from the very beginning, and they touch it, giving it light, favor and bring it quiet. And if the soul suffers dryness, agitation and worry, these are taken away as though by a stroke of the hand since it seems the Lord wants it to understand that He is powerful and that His words are works.”


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