He created us with bodies and five senses, and he doesn't hide from our need to see and hear and touch.
God is invisible. He’s everywhere — I learned that when I was very young — but as a child, and even now, it feels like the hastily added “… but he’s invisible” qualifier really puts a damper on things. Great, he’s everywhere, but I want to see him. Don’t you? I want to hear him. I don’t just want to talk and talk and talk into the silence, and force myself to remember that he’s listening.
Even the Eucharist, which is literally the answer to my heart’s desire, has no face. Even there, in the physical presence of God, we still have to see (as the phrase goes) with the eyes of faith. Our actual eyes don’t help much. Without faith, we are left with a God who is infuriatingly abstract. An abstract God, who nevertheless wants to have a personal relationship with us. What kind of sense does that make?
The thing is, our desire for a more physical, more tangible relationship is totally legitimate. God made us to communicate with our bodies. He designed us so that sometimes our greatest comfort is a strong hug from a person we love, or a human voice — the reverberations of the sound waves on the organs of our ears — telling us that we matter. In the intimacy of a marriage, we join our bodies in the most intimate way. These desires are good.
We are designed to want concrete, physical, connection with the people we love, and God is no exception. We’re told that we will have that experience of him eventually, when he will “wipe away the tears from every face.”
In the meantime, though, we don’t have to be left wishing for physical reminders of his existence. There truly is a real, concrete way through which God does touch our eyes, our ears, our bodies, even now while the world is still fallen.
It’s through other people. His grace, which seems so abstract and theoretical, becomes concrete and undeniable in the faces of those holy people among us who have accepted that grace.
It’s this fact, more than anything, that sustains my faith on days when God seems too distant to be believed. The same question forces its way to the front of my mind, every time an especially unbearable tragedy makes its way into the headlines, and onto my computer screen: “Where is God?” How could I not ask that? It’s a question we all have to ask, not once or twice, but constantly. Do I really believe in this invisible, inaudible Person?
Well, I can’t see and hear God, but I can see and hear the voices of the people who love me. Love comes to us in so many ways, and all love is of God. That’s something I can hold on to. That’s real to me.
How to pray with icons: A brief guide
When I can’t even remember why I believe, I can focus on the people who show me the face of God by their goodness, their gentleness, their selflessness. God may be invisible, but I can still see him in the faces of those who are full to the brim with his grace.
I used to wish he would appear to me, at least once, to give me something to hold on to. Now I realize, he has appeared to me, plenty of times. The nurse in the Labor and Delivery ward (her name, memorably, was “Integrity”), who prayed with me through the midnight contractions — she was showing me God’s own compassion. The voice of that priest who I can call and pour out my frustration to — in his love, his answers blend of his own voice with the voice of God, who is love.
Voices are concrete. Faces are real to me. I’m starting to see that my faith rests, so much more than I knew, on the goodness and the love of other people, who constantly show me who God is, and what he looks like. The best part of it all is that it isn’t an accident. This is how God designed us to be.