Walking in God’s Presence
Dr. Albert Rossi · December 4, 2011
What does it mean to be constantly in the presence of God? Dr. Rossi explores the practical implications in today's episode.
In the last podcast, I spoke about the heart, diving into the heart, and in today’s little podcast, I’d like to go further with that idea and go into our heart, where God resides, where the Lord is. I’ll begin with this sentence for us to think about: If I put all things in God’s hands, I will see God’s hands in all things.
That’s a starting point. Of course, it’s difficult, and of course, both sides of that equation are virtually impossible: putting all things in God’s hands is a stretch beyond our imagination, and seeing God’s hands in all things is equally difficult. But if we continue to say the words and dwell in our heart and ask for God’s grace, growth is really possible—really, really—for us in that direction if we really want it, if we persist in seeking it.
What does it mean for me and you to put all things in God’s hands? It means all. All, all, all, all, all. So we say, in effect, to the Lord, I give you my everything. I give you my health, I give you my kidneys and my bank account, my children, my memory, my activities, and of course, my agenda, and my thoughts, and my all. I just give it to you. I give it to you to do with as you can. Do with me as you can. That’s the starting place, and we say that.
And then we say it, “Hmm,” and then we take it back. Okay. That’s life in this fallen state. But our intent is to continue to come back to that and again to say again and again and try to mean again and again and again, “Lord, I am all yours.”
That’s the heart of the gospel. That’s what Jesus really wants. He wants our heart.
A while ago, I had a very interesting experience. I gave a retreat in Eagle River, Alaska, on the twentieth anniversary of the EOC’s coming into Orthodoxy. I gave half the retreat, four talks. And Fr. Gregory Rogers gave four talks, so we kind of co-led the retreat together.
His four talks were on the exterior journey, which was, to use the word in its colloquial sense, byzantine. Up and down, deserts and mountains—very interesting set of four talks about how a very large group of people were led by the Lord through all of these ways and places and people into Orthodoxy, into the ancient faith. They came in.
He said one sentence during his four talks that I’ll never forget. In evangelical circles, he was a prominent man, before coming into Orthodoxy. And he said, “I’m the only person I know who can say ‘I was a bishop.’” “I was a bishop.” Now, he’s an Orthodox priest.
So he gave one talk, and I gave one talk. His was on the exterior, mine was on the interior journey of growing in Orthodoxy.
So I gave my four talks. Ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni-ni. At the end of the four talks, I gave a little index card to everybody, and I said, “Now, I’ve talked for many hours. Write down one idea that you would like to remember and even perhaps share as time goes on.” And then I just collected the cards.
It was a large group of people. Quite a lovely gathering in this gorgeous, gorgeous place of Eagle River. Oh! Ravishingly beautiful.
I was surprised when, later, I read the responses of the people, many of the people wrote the same thing: that they were struck by the way I developed—the way the Lord developed in me—the little quote from the Gospel of St. John, John 21, and then applying it to their lives. And the little story, and I had them do a little exercise, which I’ll try to explain to you.
In John 21, after the resurrection, the apostles, downhearted—some of them, at least—went to Galilee and were fishing. Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” And others said, “We’ll go with you.” And they went out, and they caught nothing. Then, I’ll read to you what it says: “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them,” in effect, “Cast your nets on the other side,” and they caught a load of fish. And then “the apostle whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Fascinating development. They had been with Jesus three years. They saw a human on the shore, but they didn’t recognize it was Jesus for whatever reason. And then, they were able to—one, and then they all said, “It is the Lord.”
That’s the paradigm for our lives. That’s the way our hidden heart can slowly begin to transform. That is to say, whenever we see a person, we see that person. And only that person. And then, perhaps, as a little time goes along, we begin to understand, no, that’s not only this person, but it’s also the Lord expressing himself through this person to me. And then a whole new world opens up.
Not only humans, but all of creation. The squirrels, the snowflakes, the sunshine, the fruit on the tree, the very water that we drink—all becomes a manifestation of the presence of the Lord. It can show us it is the Lord. So no matter what happens to us, to me and you, it is the Lord in some way, his life in it. Even if I’m in the kitchen and drop a plate and it breaks on the floor, I can say “It is the Lord.”
Now, precisely what the Lord wants me to refer to him, to give it to him, to surrender to him, to acknowledge his presence within reality. That’s why things happen, so I can trust him more and kind of be more aware of his presence. That way of seeing things has a great deal to do with the way we can then begin to see that there’s more to this life than meets the eye.
I want to play a song that expresses this quite well, of my wife and my daughter singing about giving everything to the Lord, “Lay My Life Before Thee,” but I’ll give a little prelude to that, about my wife.
When my wife and I married, she was a beautiful woman, and we have two kids. But about eighteen years into our marriage, she discovered she had breast cancer, had a breast removed, a mastectomy. And the doctor said, “Your mother had a mastectomy and lived twenty-five years; you’re fine.”
However, in my wife’s case, a year later, she began to have some back pain, serious. She went for an MRI. I was with her when the doctor gave us the results of the MRI.
And he said in effect, “Uh-oh. The breast cancer that you had metastasized through the lymph nodes to the bone. And now you have metastasized bone cancer, and bone cancer is the most painful of all cancers, and no one dies from bone cancer.”
So I said to the oncologist, “What are you saying? It’s the most painful but you don’t die from it.”
And he was kind of a man without much bedside manner, and he simply said, “Well,” he said to the both of us, “she, you,” speaking to her, “will die from something else, but not bone cancer.”
So for the next year, my wife suffered immensely from the bone cancer. She had pain that morphine in the form of Roxanol didn’t touch. The pain was excruciating. She had chemotherapy and radiation. We’d go in the hospital every month to drain her blood a bit and clean it out, and she’d come back home.
And the children and I simply had to bear with her that pain that she was going through. It’s beyond my description now. Horrid.
During the last couple of weeks of her life, she said to me, “Al, bone cancer was the greatest gift God ever gave to me.”
I was stunned. I said, “Woah, woah, woah, woah, wait. What about your children, what about Orthodoxy, what about me?”
And she said, “Oh, I know, I know, I know, but I would have never known God as I know him; I would have never known love as I have been loved; and I would have never known how I can love had I not had bone cancer.” And then she said, “The only problem is, now I have to die.”
And she did die, and it’s very sad. The children and I of course were grieved, but we were glad that their mom was relieved of all the pain that she had been in and is in heaven.
My point is that it is possible to say—she came to the point where she could say, “It is the Lord,” about bone cancer. If she could say, “It is the Lord,” about bone cancer, we can say, “It is the Lord,” about a flat tire or a headache or the events of life. That’s the point that I want to continue to make to myself and to you and to invite you into the world of the Bible as much as we can.
I’m now going to play that little song for you of my wife and my daughter. My daughter was about eight or so years old when they sang this together. But it’s about giving everything to the Lord.
Father, I adore you,
Lay my life before you.
How I love you.
Jesus, I adore you,
Lay my life before you.
How I love you.
Spirit, I adore you,
Lay my life before you.
How I love you.
I think you’ll agree that there’s a certain heavenly beauty about that song, and a certain pathos, knowing that it’s a mother and a daughter, and the mother is no longer alive.
But “I lay my life before you,” meaning, I give my all to you, I love you. And I do that within the group of people, the church, within the God-given group of people we have. Someone said, “The church exists to preserve our sanity.” And I certainly believe that. I believe that that’s what the church is all about.
So I’ll close this the way it opened. If I put all things in God’s hands, I’ll see God’s hands in all things.