September/October 2003
Carmelite Ponderings: The Presence of God in Clay

Sr. Rosmarie Cameron, O.C.D.

In the book of Genesis we read: "God created man in his image — in the divine image — he created male and female The Lord God formed him out of the clay of the ground."
When I was a young religious, while still in initial formation, Fr. Raphael Kitz, O.C.D. asked: "What is the main difference between a hippopotamus and a human being?" Immediately I thought, "well you know, sometimes it is hard to tell." Yet, I refrained from answering, and I am glad I did because his response was very meaningful. Father said: "the difference is that a human being is created with an openness to God, a yearning and a hope that the yearning will be fulfilled, while a hippo does not have that sort of a capacity." Years later a newly ordained bishop who we did some sewing for chose the motto: "Deep calls unto Deep." remembered Father Raphael's words, and they seemed to be echoed by the Bishop's motto. Both were resounding the same truth. From the depths of a human being, a cry calls out to the depths of God, while the depth of God calls out to us.
The dignity of a human person is truly awesome. Not only is clay transformed by the breath of God into His very image and likeness, but also, this "clay" from its very depths is involved in a relationship with God. St. Paul tells us that we are temples, the dwelling places of God — Jesus Himself first pronounced this profound reality when He let us know that He and the Father come to dwell within us. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity once wrote that we are as close to God now as we will be when we are in Heaven, the only difference is that, there, we will be able to see Him — here He is veiled, but nonetheless present. When St. Teresa of Jesus founded the monastery of St. Joseph's in Avila, her resolve was "that since His Majesty has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones." She wanted this small community to be an example for all Christians of what true friendship in Jesus is all about. How would this become a reality? She so often counsels that it is "by looking at Him who never takes His eyes off of us." To discover this gaze most intimately, we need to discover it within us. She writes in her book The Interior Castle, "the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says He finds His delight."
After reflecting on this, it would seem the greatest tragedy in a person's life would be not to recognize, or even begin to look for, the dignity and goodness which is intrinsically ours. Quoting Teresa again, "It is a shame and unfortunate that ... we don't understand ourselves or know who we are. We know we have souls ... but we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or Who dwells in it, or its high value. All our attention is taken up with the plainness of the diamond's setting, or the outer wall of this castle; that is, with these bodies of ours." The God who created us in love to be the image of Him, who is Love, offers us so many ways to discover and live our truth.
As Christians and Catholics we especially find our way in the Commandments of God, as well as the whole of Scripture, especially the New Testament, and the unfolding of these truths for us through the tradition and teachings of the Church. Yet, too often we find ourselves reasoning that these directives are chains that bind us. Not to strive to abide by them is just "our way," we rationalize, which we are free to do. After a lot of bumps and knocks, I'm beginning to find they offer the direction of truest freedom —wings to soar with.
Arriving at this conclusion is relatively simple, but living it is an intense challenge every day. The only way we have the strength, the determination, the desire for this truest freedom and the only way to encounter our personal worth and dignity is to look within, to look at our good God who is present. This is what the "practice of the presence of God" is all about. Being with Him who is always with us, letting Him do with us what we really cannot do for ourselves. "Be holy as He is holy." Some might say to sin is to be human. Maybe so, but that is broken, blind humanity. We were not made in the image and likeness of sin, but in the image and likeness of God. This means to be with Him, listen to Him, and let Him show the way. The practice of the presence of God is not an elite exercise for the "spiritually inclined." St. Thérèse might tell us it is the exercise of "placing my foot on the elevator that is God, who carries me to be who l am meant to be, to carry me to be really who I am. Sometimes I think sin is not so much a thing of hurting God as it is a disfiguring of who I am meant to be before Him, before myself and before others." May He in his mercy, continue breathing into clay that it may have life, bear His image and, in truth, to be totally free in His presence forever.

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