In prayer, when I attend to this body, there are two things I do.
- I remember and invoke sensations of God’s presence that I experienced in the past. (See Where to start?). Ignatius calls this repetition.
- I feel into this body and attend to the body’s sensations. The body tells me what I need to know today. It is how I ‘hear’ myself and ‘listen’ to God. (See Feeling into this body.)
When I encourage others in the first of these two I sometimes get reactions like:
- Isn’t this nostalgia?
- Aren’t you just trying to recreate and relive things that are past?
- Aren’t you just pretending or imagining God is present?
- How do you know it is God? Isn’t it just you?
Behind these questions is a very common mistake: the idea that God is mostly at a distance; the idea that God sometimes ‘turns up’, but we can’t engineer or make this happen, because it is up to God; the idea that all we can do is put ourselves in right order and wait.
The truth is that God is always present, always here, is here right now as I write and you read this. It is you and I who are, as it were, distant.
In those past experiences God has bridged the gap of our distance, or we have been able to be open enough, so that we are more aware of God present. When this happens we are naturally grateful and moved. (Perhaps feeling moved and grateful is the experience of God present.) When this happens we can notice what God’s presence is like to, and in, this body, what it feels like, and where we feel it. What has been given is not God’s presence – which is, always and everywhere, a given – but the felt sense of God’s presence.
It is good to gather and cherish memories of the felt sense of God’s presence. It is good to recall them in all their sensation. When we remember, revisit, and feel again these memories, this is not a memory of things past, not nostalgia à la recherche du temps perdu, but recollecting the truth: that God is present now and this is what God’s presence feels like.
Repetition makes real now what was true then – what is always true.