The Elusive Presence of God


Nicole T. Walters -Elusive Presence4

I stared into the tiny flame that danced in brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds. Everyone else had gone back to the bus, ready to move onto the next site in our pilgrimage through the Holy Land, but I stayed behind. I knew there wasn’t anything more holy about this place, that I wasn’t any closer to God’s presence on this mountain than anywhere else on earth. But I stayed anyway.

It was on this very mountain that Elijah called down fire from heaven. On Mt. Carmel God showed up in the fire, consuming everything. The Lord’s power was so visible for a moment, proving God was real and cared about the prayers of the people. Now a monastery stands in the place of that fire, a little chapel that serves to remind people of the God who answers prayer.

There was a heavy burden on my heart that day. Someone I loved back home was hurting and I felt compelled in that place to kneel before the little altar and light a candle—calling out light in the darkness. It was just a tiny reflection of the fire all those years ago, but it was a visible representation to me that God hears when we call.

So I lit a little flame in the darkness and I cried, believing that the God of Elijah could still rain down fire and show up in mighty ways.


In the quiet of the morning before my family awakens, downstairs in my living room, my mind wanders to my to-do lists for the day. I try to focus on a word to center me, bring me back to what I am trying to find—the Presence of God that I felt on that mountain. I grasp for it like a parched traveler in the desert. I can see it up ahead. Like a mirage in that scorching desert, it remains just out of my grasp.

I can remember the way an aching need called me to prayer, the way I found God there. I try to muster concentration, grasping for stillness in my mind to match the silence of the house before all the noise begins. It’s like a flame I try to light with no matches, trying to will it into existence. I can’t find the spark, and my attempts at waiting quietly before the Lord sputter out. I sigh and get up to start the day.


There are moments I have grasped the holiness of God, felt the Presence so strongly. It was like a fire in my soul burning orange and hot, and my prayers the incense that rose from the flames. I remember those moments with longing.

More often than not these days, prayer is work. It is fighting against my alarm when I would rather stay in bed another hour. It is sitting in silence when my mind is racing. I want to make it be still, but I can’t will it into submission.

I go back to the words of those who have gone before me and read all I can, soak in the wisdom of the ancients on prayer. I keep showing up to learn new practices. Words like Examen, Centering Prayer, and Lectio Divina have become a new part of my vocabulary, part of my journey towards fanning the flame.

Contemplative prayer still feels like a foreign language to me, but I am finding the words slowly. Silence can speak too, I am learning.

“If all people had open and receptive hearts, they could see and hear God’s voice at all times and in all places,” said the ascetic mystic Sundar Singh, “but we have lost this awareness.”

I ask to become aware.

So, my alarm goes off and I show up. Some days I don’t and I try not to let guilt overwhelm me and keep me from prayer altogether. I go back to the words of Ed Cyzewski–“celebrate each time you turn toward God in prayer. Beginning is enough.”

I begin again.

Some days the fire burns. Others there is little flame at all. But whether I am aware or not, show up or not–God is there. On Mt. Carmel. In my living room. In the fire and in the silence.

On the days it feels like work and not a relationship, I remember the words of Micha Boyett that “prayer is not an act I perform, words I recite, behavior I strive to maintain. It is a returning.”

I return.