Early last year, I walked into one of the facilities for the sick and elderly that we visit, and saw a man I had never seen before sitting on a couch. The expression on his face was slightly pensive. As I approached him, he looked up and gave a sad smile. I noticed his sadness was peaceful. After introducing myself, I asked how long he had been at the facility. He looked unsure and answered, “I don’t know.” I asked if he had family in the area, and after a moment of silence, he said apologetically, “I think I might have children. Honestly Sister, I can’t remember. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know why I am here. I don’t know what to do. I feel lost and I’m confused . . . but the one thing I do know is that God is with me and that He will never leave me.” Then he gave a sweet smile and said, “That’s all I need, and I am so grateful I have Him!”
Driving away that afternoon, I marveled at how I remember so many unimportant things but forget that simple, most important truth, while that man forgot everything but remembered that alone. It brought back to me a conversation I once had with my spiritual director, to whom I had been complaining about feeling stuck in a place where I couldn’t sense God. He responded simply, “Find Him. Find Him in that place.” He assured me that there was no state a person can be in where God cannot be found. I thought of different states of spiritual darkness that I had read about, and about different periods of dryness I had experienced, and felt doubtful. But when I actually tried to put those words into practice, I was astonished every time.
Usually, I remembered that simple counsel to find Him after I had already been giving my best effort to pray for over an hour, and felt like I had made all the progress of someone trying to get through a triple-layered brick wall by kicking and hitting it. I was at a point where I did not feel like trying any more. But when I realized that I had been trying to leave behind whatever dryness, exhaustion and irritation I was experiencing in order to find Him, I would try one more time to seek Him where I was, as I was, in the context of my inner confusion and disconnection. To my amazement, I was able to “find Him” every time.
As a contemplative who has often sought God by meditating, reading, writing, remembering past experiences of Him, and making resolutions for the future, I was humbled by this reminder that I have so often forgotten that there is always one place where His presence and His grace are most available—the present moment.
This was a truth beautifully related by Archbishop Francis Van Thuan, who was tortured and imprisoned by communists for thirteen years, nine of which were spent in solitary confinement. He wrote:
“In prison, everyone waits for freedom every day, every minute of every day. During those days and months, my mind was racked with many confused feelings: sadness, fear, tension . . . In the darkness of this terrible night, in the middle of an ocean of anguish, I slowly woke up. ‘I have to face reality,’ I told myself. ‘I am in prison. If I wait for the opportune moment to do something really great, how many times will such occasions actually present themselves? I have to take advantage of the occasions that present themselves every day.’
“I was convinced during those long nights in prison that living in the present moment is the most simple and most secure way to holiness. From this conviction a prayer was born:
“Jesus, I will not wait; I will live the present moment and fill it with love. A straight line is made of millions of little points, one united with the other. My life too, is made of millions of seconds and minutes united with the other. If I arrange every single point perfectly, the line will be straight. If I live every minute perfectly, my life will be holy.” (1)
Once, when he was so exhausted and sick from maltreatment he felt completely unable to concentrate or pray. He felt unable to say the rosary, to recall the prayers of the mass, to do anything other than exist in the present moment, so he said simply “Jesus, here is Francis.” A clear and beautiful voice responded from the darkness “Francis, here is Jesus.”
He found God in the profound darkness and mental anguish of solitary confinement, and another man, in a nursing home, whose diminished mental capacity has reduced him to being unable even to remember his children or understand where he is, is still aware that God is with him in the present.
So whether you find yourself in a state of distress or peace, frustration or indifference or despair, I pray you will always know of God’s unconditional presence, and I hope this encourages you to find Him in that place.
—Sr. Maria, Servant of Abba Father
(1) Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope, trans. Julia Maria Darrenkamp, FSP and Anne Eileen Heffernan, FSP (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), 52.