Feeling the power of God’s presence
Last fall I had the opportunity to go sailing with a group of high school students. One night there was a big storm, and during my hour-long shift in the middle of the night keeping watch at the anchor, I unintentionally left my sleeping bag open. When I returned to my spot to go back to sleep, I found a cold pool of water in my bag—and there was no chance of it drying out anytime soon. I gave up trying to go to sleep and spent the rest of the night sitting against the mast.
At first, I couldn’t stop thinking, “I want to be warm, I want to be dry; I want to be warm, I want to be dry.” Suddenly, though, I started thinking about Christ Jesus and his teachings. I thought Jesus and his disciples would probably have been quite familiar with this sort of situation! The New Testament describes more than one occasion where they experienced a storm while on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, however, didn’t teach how to find material respite from the storms that brew in our lives, literally or figuratively. Instead, he urged his followers to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,” following this with the promise “and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
This idea of seeking the kingdom of God first—before anything else—really struck me. Did Jesus’ instruction mean that instead of ruminating over how much I desired a warm sleeping bag, I should spend my time seeking the presence of the kingdom of God? And then—what? God would somehow dry out my sleeping bag?
As I continued to reflect on this familiar Bible passage, I became convinced that Jesus was urging us to leave everything out of thought other than seeking and striving to bear witness to the presence of the kingdom of God right here. Our experiencing the joy of God’s kingdom is not contingent on certain circumstances or a certain passage of time. Right there on that boat—or anywhere!—I could persist in seeking and striving to see and feel the presence of God’s kingdom, the reality of divine Love that meets every human need.
Well, although it may sound unlikely, the rest of the night was truly wonderful. I left off feeling sorry for myself and for the boys who were with me, stopped feeling upset with myself, and was able to let go of a lingering fear that this climate and weather might lead to sickness or discomfort for any of us. I just spent the time loving God and praying to discern divine Love’s presence more clearly.
Later, I had the thought to check inside my “pillow” (a raincoat stuffed with a set of dry clothes and tied). This pillow had been inside the soaking bag, so I hadn’t thought to check it earlier, but it turned out that everything in it was completely dry. I realized that I hadn’t needed to find my dry clothes before I could find peace. Instead, a greater realization of the presence of the kingdom of heaven had brought me peace, and then a solution was found.
Sometimes it might seem as if feeling God’s presence and His care is dependent on the circumstances around us. When things are going well, it may seem easy to pray, give gratitude, and feel God’s love; when things aren’t going so great, we may be tempted to think that God, good, is absent, or possibly has even deserted us. Is our ability to discern and feel God’s presence at the mercy of the physical senses?
Of course not! Christian Science teaches that in both joyful and trying times, “God is ‘the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever’ ” (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 2). Our ability to be conscious of God’s presence isn’t determined by our circumstances, and in fact, it’s our spiritual sense, our faith in and understanding of God’s all-presence, that not only uplifts us during difficult experiences but also brings healing where needed.
Instead of assessing whether God is present based on what we see going on around us, we can follow the healing example of Jesus by looking away from the reports of the physical senses and standing firmly on what we know to be true about the all-presence and supremacy of God. Though my experience on the sailboat is a modest one compared to the trials many people face, it still helped me better understand that instead of our outward experience governing our thought, just the opposite is true.
A greater realization of the presence of the kingdom of heaven brought me peace, and then a solution was found
The fundamental nature of man includes dominion—one of the first gifts God bestows on man as reported in Genesis 1. Doesn’t this dominion include a divinely mandated self-government over our consciousness—over what we accept and assess as real and trustworthy? I’ve found the last three verses in the book of Habakkuk helpful as I’ve considered what it means to express this dominion: “Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom, and there’s no produce on the vine; though the olive crop withers, and the fields don’t provide food; though the sheep are cut off from the pen, and there are no cattle in the stalls; I will rejoice in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance. The Lord God is my strength. He will set my feet like the deer. He will let me walk upon the heights” (3:17–19, Common English Bible). God’s gift of dominion means we can always choose to rejoice in and trust the changelessness of God and His spiritual creation—and to know that He will deliver us!
It is Love, the divine Mind of all, that illumines human consciousness with the understanding of God’s supremacy and ever-presence. We are witnesses of this divine presence, made to see, honor, and love God. Our role is not to force the divine power into action, or even to help God in His work. Our role is only to express our God-given dominion and persist in seeing and demonstrating the presence of God, echoing the heavenly-mindedness of Paul: “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).
Last summer, I had an experience that greatly strengthened my understanding of the power of God’s presence and the fact that His presence is the only reality.
My family and I were enjoying a sunny day on the Oregon coast. You couldn’t ask for a more idyllic scene. Suddenly we heard a cry, and my wife realized that it had come from a person caught out in the waves, struggling to swim. We quickly saw that this person was caught in a riptide, which is a strong ocean current almost like a conveyor belt that goes straight out to sea. It’s hard to stay calm when stuck in this current with the waves crashing around you, and this person was clearly in a great deal of trouble.
A family next to us called 911. I am not a strong swimmer, and I didn’t know what I could do, but I felt impelled nonetheless to go down to the water. I felt carried by God, and the only thing I could focus on was the thought, “I am going to see God today. I am going to see the saving power of God this day.” I wasn’t saying this to myself like a mantra; this thought—this angel message—filled my consciousness, and I was practically led out into the water. In retrospect, I realize that I was completely free from fear, or any sense of being impressed with what seemed like very real trouble. Instead, I was filled with the assurance of the presence and reality of God.
I got to where I was about knee-deep in the water, and this person was about a hundred yards from me. He was clearly still caught in the riptide, but I was still feeling fearless and fully confident in the power of God. All of a sudden, he stopped flailing around and quickly and smoothly came straight in to shore—still as if on a conveyor belt, but now headed in the opposite direction. He had been far enough out that the water would have been too deep to stand in, so for him to be essentially lifted up and brought back toward the shore directly against the riptide seemed truly incredible. I walked the boy—a teenager—back to his mom. I was also able to connect him with the sheriff’s officer who had responded to the 911 call. The boy was shaken, but doing just fine after a hug from his mom.
As I walked back to where my family was on the beach, I was awed by the proof of God’s power that I had seen. In terms of physical power, there’s not much that rivals the ocean. And yet, that inner assurance of seeing God this day was stronger than any ocean pull I had ever felt, and witnessing the salvation of this boy from that tidal danger forever changed and uplifted my sense of the immediacy and power of God’s presence. It involved no complicated words, no mere hoping that God would help, not even a personal sense of my own agency in making something happen—but simply seeking “first the kingdom of God,” followed by the call of God to come and see His work.
Mary Baker Eddy writes in an article included in her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896: “No evidence before the material senses can close my eyes to the scientific proof that God, good, is supreme” (p. 277). In the reality of God, good—the divine Principle of the universe—all is harmonious, and no claims of the physical senses, even if they seem as strong as an ocean, can rival the power of God’s presence. Therefore, they need not convince us that God is absent or unable to help us, since through Christian Science we can prove the truth of God’s harmonious reality.
It is our divine right to be able to turn to God in any circumstance and see the harmony, health, and power that constitute His all-inclusive presence. It’s not a question of how much we know. It’s just a question of our willingness to be faithful and steadfast in assessing reality from the premise of one perfect God, divine good, the Principle of the entire universe.