When I was a little girl growing up in Montana, I used to kneel at the altar at St. Francis Xavier Church, staring up at the crucifix. An exceptionally realistic rendering, it consisted of a rough-hewn cross and a life-size body. More than anything, I wanted to experience Jesus coming to life and speaking from that cross—a miracle I had read about in the lives of some saints.
I used to stare at Jesus' face, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the eyelids might flutter for a second.
Nothing ever happened and, quite frankly, I would probably have been traumatized for life if it had. What I wanted, I realize now, was not a talking statue but an undeniable encounter with the Divine. I didn't just want to know about God; I wanted to know him. At the age of six, I believed that the way to experience that kind of intimate one-on-one meeting was through a miracle that involved bringing plaster to life. I was at the right station but trying to get on the wrong train.
It's true we experience God only through a miracle. But I didn't know then that this generally involves miracles of the small "m" variety, not big "M" Miracles. Everyday Encounters with God—a new book by Fr. Benedict Groeschel and Bert Ghezzi—presents this reality with deep insight. Clearly, the authors understand both the longing I felt as a child and the way God meets us most usually in the daily and the ordinary.
God Is Calling. In their introduction, the authors tell us: "Everywhere the voice of God very gently calls us to turn to him." But "even though we may have been devout believers all our lives, we may not be sensitive enough to the persistent and ever-present call of God" because "we may not watch and listen carefully enough." Their goal is to help us sort out the ways God may be calling us and to help us respond.
Everyday Encounters expands our awareness of the ways God can use to get our attention. The book is divided into five sections, each one composed of six chapters that explore subjects like the natural world, the human body, relationships, and "random acts of kindness," as well as prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments. Ghezzi and Groeschel provide practical helps, like questions for reflection and discussion, and gently guide us to answer "the call of God's grace on our lives."
Because both writers are articulate and gifted, the words glide easily across the reader's brain, only to surprise the heart with pointed and practical observations. Another kind of surprise derives from the fact that only at the end of each chapter does the author identify himself. For me, part of the fun of the book was trying to figure out who was writing what, and getting to know a bit more about these men in the process.
Co-Creators with God. Bert Ghezzi's chapter on "Workers and Artists, Co-Creators with God" was particularly relevant to me. Even though I make my living as a writer, most of what I do doesn't seem very creative. Filling in the days on a calendar of saints' days, for instance, hardly feels like the heights of artistic expression; writing marketing copy for yet another commercial product often feels like the depths. But then I read Ghezzi's comment, "We can tap into the innate creativity in our beings and express it in our work—however ordinary," and it literally took my breath away. Ghezzi then goes on to say:
Our creativity can bring beauty and order where there was once ugliness and chaos. At home, when we clean the garage, trim and mulch the bushes, redecorate a room, wash and wax the car, or serve a meal that delights the family, we are co-creators with God, making the world sparkle though our efforts.
These words remind us that when we feel a natural pride for our work, we not only become an artist: We reflect the creativity of our Creator, in whose image and likeness we are made. For that reminder alone, the book is worth having on my desk to remind me that the mundane can become the sublime, with proper focus and attention.
Listen Up! As I write this, I'm visiting a friend. Outside her window, a group of hummingbirds jockey and bicker over position at the feeder. Every now and then, an oriole swoops down, attempting to assert sugar water dominance. As twilight overtakes the California hills, I pause to reread Fr. Benedict's words:
If you want to hear what God is saying to you, you must learn to listen to life, that multifaceted flow of events that fills the passing of your time. . . . God is communicating with us in the flow of events in our lives. He may be telling us to be patient, to be brave, to be courageous, to be kind, to be understanding, or to be forgiving. Whatever happens—even something sad and tragic—can send a message to us. . . . If we want to hear what God is saying to us, we must keep on listening to life.
I've never been this close to hummingbirds before, and in the thrum of their wings, I perceive the whisper of God.
Where do we hear God? How do we hear God? In our "everyday encounters" that cause us to sense God's nearness. In the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Through their words, both Ghezzi and Groeschel help us see the brightness of God shining out in and around our own lives.
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker lives in Eugene, Oregon. Her latest book is Asking God for the Gifts He Wants to Give You (The Word Among Us).