If God attempts to communicate with Americans or other westerners these days, chances are He’ll get a busy signal.
Our romance with cell phones, not to mention laptops and tablets, video games, music devices, and other electronic gadgets has passed the point of preoccupation and in some cases has reached obsession. Many of us are so busy calling, tweeting, and texting that we completely ignore the people standing next to us or sitting across from us.
So engrossed are we in conversing on the phone or pounding tiny keys with our thumbs that we are in risk of walking into telephone poles, benches, fountains, and moving traffic. And yet we crave ever-newer gadgets to increase our disengagement with the reality around us. When Apple introduced its iPhone 6, hundreds of thousands of people around the world stood in lines for hours, in some cases days, to buy them, even though their 4 and 5 versions and competitors’ models were still working fine.
To say God Himself may have trouble reaching us is not as silly as it may seem. Of course, God’s attempts to communicate with us do not depend on the circuits of Verizon or Sprint. But He does need to get our attention, and that can only happen if our minds and hearts are open.
The theological term that describes God’s reaching out to us is grace, and over the centuries it has produced a veritable minefield of conflicting definitions and interpretations. Catholics speak of sacramental grace and actual grace; Protestants, depending on their tradition, speak of common, prevenient, justifying, sustaining, and/or irresistible grace. (I say “minefield” because of the linguistic and intellectual dangers caused by this plethora of terms.)
The terms actual and common grace are similar and less dependent on theological doctrine than the other terms. Broadly speaking, they refer to the everyday ways in which God reaches out to all His children, regardless of their particular faith or lack thereof.
Actual/common grace is available at every moment in every experience in life, happy or unhappy, seemingly important or unimportant. This is so because each experience is linked to one or more others and points to a meaning that can be discerned. The meaning may be a reminder of some truth about our individual lives or human life in general—an obligation to be honored, a virtue to be pursued, a rule to be obeyed, a purpose to be served, a principle to be lived. The reminder may touch our minds, our hearts, or both. It may urge us to deeper understanding or increased resolve, or simply invite us to further reflection.
Grace is present in experience whether we perceive it or not, but God does not force it on us nor direct our responses. Whether we recognize and profit from it is entirely up to us.
The first step in finding grace in our experiences is to be fully present when we are with other people by looking them in the eye, putting aside our internal reverie (and external gadgets), listening to what they say, and responding meaningfully. The next step is to reflect both on our interactions with others and on our observations of people and events and to draw meaning from them. This reflection can take the form of pausing in our daily activities to ask and answer questions about the experiences or simply to call them to mind and open our minds to their meaning.
These two steps have always been the key to receiving grace. They were employed even in the most primitive human circumstances. Ironically, it was in some ways easier to employ them then than it is today because the very technology that revolutionized communication has created an obstacle to receiving grace. The solution is not to abandon the blessings of progress but to exercise greater prudence in using them.
Copyright © 2014 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved
To see more of this author’s work, visit www.mind-at-work.com