After I returned from my sabbatical, having lived in close quarters with over 250 men for many months, I noticed that my senses had been deprived and were suddenly overwhelmed. The smells inside the compound, had all been the same, so the smell of a women’s perfume or honeysuckle, when I reentered the real world, had more intensity. The food wasn’t bad( I was prejudiced because for a good while, I was the breakfast and soup cook), but to appease different tastes it was bland and poorly seasoned. Suzy’s food stimulated my pallet, and I really noticed fresh herbs and spices. I would find myself staring at an attractive woman. Suzy would elbow me; telling me to stop staring. I stared at colors, nature, and art, as well, in my defense. My senses were on high alert noticing things that had always been there, but I hadn’t noticed. Now after many years away from my sabbatical, if I am not careful my senses can fail to notice beauty and zest again except in the extraordinary. Everything again, unless I am careful not to let it happen, starts to blend. My senses have dulled again from neglectful overuse.
We fail to notice the presence of God for much of the same reasons. God is apt to make himself known to us more often in our midst rather than in some extraordinary event. He is not likely to be “holding court” at noon on Thursdays in some grand ballroom, but to arrive unannounced during dinner or on a walk in the evening. Jesus after his crucifixition appeared as a gardener to Mary, in their locked room to his disciples, to Peter on the shore, by a fire, and to two strangers on the road and during lunch. Jesus never approached from on high, instead he was always in their midst. He was found in the midst of people, the midst of real life, and the questions real life asks. But we tend to notice only the overwhelming. We are not alert to the nudges and subtleties in our midst that are God’s works.
During Lent we fine tune our spiritual senses, and begin to look harder and better for God in our midst. Lenten discipline sends our spirituality to the “sharpener.” My sabbatical taught me that there was a world of beauty and sensory stimulation in my day-to-day existence. It didn’t just appear when I returned to the real world, it was there all the time, and it took deprivation to make me aware of its presence and to never ignore it again. The presence of God is also always there as well. God is in our midst at this very moment. We just need to focus our attention and our heart on his manifestation in our lives.