On the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, Mark recounts a dramatic miracle. “On coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son: with whom I am well pleased.” Mk 1, 10-11. This story is not only told in the gospel of Mark, but also in Matthew (Mt 3, 16-17) and Luke (Lk 3,21-22). Upon reading all three versions, I noticed that Jesus was the only one who witnessed this miracle.
So nobody around Jesus witnessed this big dramatic miracle? I always imagined a huge spectacle–the heavens were torn open, the Holy Spirit took bodily form, a big booming voice covered the whole world, and everyone who saw and heard were stunned and believed Jesus was the Messiah. But if you listen carefully to the story, that isn’t what happened. It clearly states that “he,” Jesus, saw and heard all that was described, not all, just him. Apparently, the miracle was not a huge spectacle at all–in fact it was just the opposite. It was invisible.
But even if the miracle was invisible to the rest of the world, it wasn’t to Jesus, who needed God’s visitation at that moment. Remember, he was fully human too. And, as a human, he was perhaps juggling many emotions that could have distracted him from noticing God’s intervention; he had just been plunged into the water and was on the brink of leaving his job as carpenter to become an itinerant preacher. But even among all these human concerns, Jesus still noticed his Father’s presence and welcomed his support and encouragement in that moment.
In spiritual direction we learn to notice the “invisible” miracles in our lives. We begin to see that God didn’t just appear to his Son and then never again. God makes miracles happen in our lives too. We just need to notice them.
But sometimes we miss the miracle because we are quite naturally distracted with our very busy lives. We can also be distracted by our human struggles that evolve into strong emotions and insecurities. When we take the time to meet with a spiritual director, we give God a better chance to be heard in our hearts.
When I share things with my spiritual director, I often find myself saying “Now that I hear myself say this, I see….” The gift of talking about our spiritual journey out loud must not be underestimated. In this instance, my spiritual director is not just a listener but a kind of mirror. I can see myself, and my relationship with God better and with more clarity because of my relationship with my spiritual director.
My Invisible Miracle
One of my sessions with my spiritual director began, like many others, with: “I haven’t been able to pray much lately.” So we just chatted about what seemed like nothing until I shared a story about a difficult struggle since I last saw her. I explained that this struggle brought me to a point of such strong emotion, that all I wanted was to be alone. At that time, in order to be alone, I had to go out to my car. I explained that while in the car, a rant of unparalleled ugliness poured forth from me. To this day, I am astonished at my behavior in those moments.
My director’s reaction to this surprised me. She saw this poisonous talk as a prayer. How on earth could such ugliness be a prayer? She pointed me to the Psalms and the Book of Lamentations, which are filled with all kinds of venting. It brought me back to that moment with a new eye. Was it really a prayer? Could God have been there listening?
After mustering the courage to face the prospect of God hearing and seeing me at my worst, I lingered in that time. I looked for the presence of God in those moments when I was struggling in my car. Then I remembered something. I noticed hearing two voices while I was spewing such hideousness. The loudest one was angry, but there was also another, quieter voice present. Even as the loud voice let loose my frustrations, the quieter one was saying: “You don’t mean any of this. But go ahead and say it–you will feel better once you do.”
I remembered feeling the sentiment of those words in the background of my rant. Indeed that feeling gave me permission to release all those awful thoughts in the first place. Bringing my director into that moment and seeing her response helped me find God in the midst of an ugly time for me. A time of which I even felt ashamed.
Not only was God there, but God was supportive, loving and helpful. I’m not ashamed of that little rant anymore. I am grateful for it. God was right, I did feel better and could resume my normal life–but a little lighter having let go of some needless pain. Another “invisible” miracle was performed that day. God eased his way into pure ugliness and redeemed it to beauty.
As I write, I notice something else too. We talk about inviting God into our lives, but in this case, he was already there without my conscious invitation. Could it be that God heard my prayer before I even knew it was one? This is something for me to ponder and share with my spiritual director.
Noticing the Presence of God
There is a feeling I get that convinces me of God’s presence in any given time. It feels as if there is a calm, quiet, and very strong support around me. These three aspects of God’s presence: calm, quiet and supportive, are always there when I notice him. But don’t let my description box you out of yours. Everyone’s noticing is unique. Can you characterize the presence of God for you? Be brave and share in the comments below. You may inspire someone else.
As a spiritual director, I see that God’s presence is so much bigger than words can describe. But even if we can’t quite capture it in words, we can notice it in its fullness. Not only is this noticing possible, but God desires it. He is patiently waiting for us, and he will help us notice, if we ask. God really does most of the heavy lifting. We just need to show up with an open heart, ponder, and seek.
Spiritual direction is a great way to notice God in the everyday moments. It can help you come to the realization that God wants to crash into your life, the way he did for Jesus on the day of his Baptism. He also wants to ease into your ugly moments the way he did for me. He wants to do all of this for the same reason: because you are his beloved child.