god-moments-coverNext month my new book God Moments: Unexpected Encounters in the Ordinary will be released by Ave Maria Press. In it I hope to offer you a way to open your heart to God’s presence in your everyday life. You know those moments where a flock of birds stops you in your tracks, or a kind word from a friend makes your day, or when a baby smiles at you from across a restaurant? Those are God moments. They’re encounters with the divine and they point us to a deeper reality: that God wishes to have a relationship with you. Through your experiences and relationships—both good and bad—God takes on flesh and is made real.

For the next four weeks I will be sharing excerpts from the four main sections of my book: Awareness, Prayer, Discernment, and Wholeness. The Ignatian approach to our relationship with God begins with awareness, the subject of this week’s excerpt.

God Moments: Unexpected Encounters in the Ordinary is available for pre-order here. Use promo code OTTO for a discount (only good through 31 March 2017).

When I was a Jesuit, I worked as a hospital chaplain. I once suggested to one of my patients a unique kind of prayer. I told him to acknowledge his surroundings, his feelings at the moment, and his life situation. Then I said, “Imagine God gazing down upon you. What does God see? How does God feel?” He was struggling with a deep self-pity in his chronic medical condition. When I returned to his room the next day, he told me he prayed this way the entire day. I asked him about the experience, and with tears in his eyes he said to me, “I felt God looking upon me with love.”

This loving gaze from God is the foundation of an Ignatian meditation often referred to as the “meditation on the incarnation.” We imagine the three persons of the Trinity (God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) gazing upon the world and seeing all the chaos going on: the laughing and crying, the marrying and divorcing, the building and destruction, the loving and hating, the violence and the peacemaking, people being born and dying, and so on. Then the Trinity decides, out of love, to send the second person of the Trinity to become human, redeem us, and remind humanity of God’s love and healing. This is the moment at which God enters our world and takes on skin.

Much of my life involved looking for God, trying to understand what God wanted of me. I searched too hard for God, in formulaic prayer and in holy water, in church groups and in scripture. I became obsessed with the mysterious messages of the book of Revelation. A relative told me about the symbolism of the book and about the Second Coming of Christ on a white horse descending from the clouds, so I pestered my Confirmation teacher about this. She knew little about Revelation and was quite annoyed at my questions. Some of this seeking was helpful; some was not. I would sit in church with my family, looking at Jesus’ face on the crucifix, but I never would notice him looking back at me. Sometimes the most revelatory prayer is allowing God to look back at us. God sees us as we are and loves us with every rough edge and nick we have.

By allowing God to gaze upon him, my hospital patient could see through his own self-pity and realize that God sincerely loves him as he is. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is proof of this loving gaze. This is precisely the point Ignatius was trying to make by including this meditation in his Spiritual Exercises. It’s a prayer where we do no speaking. We do no searching. Instead, God’s gaze does the speaking.

Pre-order God Moments by clicking this link. Use the promo code OTTO at checkout for a discount (only good through 31 March 2017).

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