by Margie Van Duzer, DMin, CFDM Spiritual Director
How do we notice God’s active, loving presence in our world? How does God “speak” to us? How do we have the eyes to see what God is doing and ears to hear what God is saying? How do we come to deeply know that we are God’s beloved?
I am not one to regularly say “God told me this or that.” I certainly know folks whose experience of God makes it easier for them to use such language, but I am hesitant to do so. There have been times, however, when my prayers, my reading of Scripture, and the daily circumstances of my life somehow end up fitting so well together that I can’t help but recognize that God is getting my attention and lovingly communicating with me. This summer I had such an experience.
My husband had a work commitment that took him to Oxford, England. I tagged along. Getting ready for the trip, I found myself growing anxious and controlling. I filled my journal with prayers for all the logistics of the trip and for what might happen while we were gone. As an act of surrender, I prayed that both what we were leaving behind and what we were about to encounter, would be in God’s hands.
The day we arrived in Oxford, before any planned events started, my husband and I walked around, trying to stay awake until the evening, in hopes of managing our jet lag. There was certainly much to see, but when we were walking through a park, I noticed a plaque on a park bench that had the words of one of my favorite Celtic verses:
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
It was the last line of the verse that grabbed my attention. I remembered my prayer from earlier in the week about trusting that God would be holding the circumstances of my life. Over the rest of my times in Oxford, I found myself regularly musing on what it meant for me, as well as for my circumstances, to be held in God’s hands.
After Oxford, we travelled to Ireland, a country I had never visited before. On our first night we stayed in County Clare, in a small town called Ennis. Directly across from our old hotel stood a church – one of the many we would see in Ireland. What made this church unique was the large sculpture outside directly facing our hotel. It was simply called “Hands”. Two large hands, the right one facing upwards, palm towards the left, and the left one held with palm up and open. No signs were posted that said “Do not touch.” Just the opposite. The sculpture practically invited one to sit in that open palm. Self-consciously, I did so. Again, I found myself musing on what it meant to be in God’s hands, and, adding to my musings, what did it mean that the right hand was like a shield of protection?
While traveling in Ireland, I was using the Irish Jesuits’ devotional web site Sacred Space for my devotions. The prayer I read on that site the morning after I saw the sculpture was a prayer of St Ignatius:
“There are very few people who realize what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands.”
More food for thought and prayer.
And, as we traveled for the rest of the week in Ireland, I ran into that same Celtic verse over and over. It is everywhere. A greeting as one enters a pub, or sits on a bench or explores ancient churches. It is almost the Irish equivalent of what we mean when we say “Have a good one.” But I must say I found the Celtic greeting far more satisfying. Every time I saw it, it drew me in, called forth further prayer and reminded me again of God’s loving care.
Earlier in the year I had been reading from the middle of Isaiah, specifically chapters 40-55. The Irish reminders of being in God’s hands drew me back to what I had read earlier:
“See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16a) and “Fear not. I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
These readings now spoke more loudly – came more alive.
God was knitting it altogether. My prayers, my reading of Scripture, the Irish Jesuit web site, and reminders of verses from Isaiah, were woven together with the Celtic verse and the sculpture of the “Hands.” In so many ways and at so many times I was being reminded that I am God’s beloved, held in the palms of God’s hands. It was obviously an incredible privilege to travel overseas and all that goes with such an experience. What I will remember most from this trip, however, is that God “spoke” to me – wanting me to know, really know, the reality that I am held in God’s loving hands.
This fall, how might God be fitting together your spiritual practices and your daily life’s circumstances? How are you being reminded that you are abundantly loved by God?