Earlier this week I gave an Advent Evening of Reflection at St. Edward’s in Bloomington, MN. The theme for the evening was Preparing a Dwelling for the Lord. I started by talking about our need to deepen our understanding that God already dwells within us, that we are the dwelling place of the Lord. One consequence of the Incarnation is that God dwells, not merely near, among or with God’s people, but in God’s people.
There is an important implication of recognizing God’s indwelling that I also spoke about: if I recognize that God dwells in me, then I also must recognize that God dwells in you, in everyone. During the open question and answer/discussion period we had after some individual reflection and small group sharing, someone said that as she sat with that idea, it occured to her to wonder: then God must also dwell in, e.g., a Hitler.
As hard as it is for us to understand in human terms, yes, God dwells even in the worst of us, even in those of us who lives don’t reflect that indwelling. Part of understanding God’s limitless, unconditional love is understanding that nothing we do – not even the worse we can do (and Hitler is often the example we use to represent the worst) – will make God withdraw from us.
It is not just the really evil people who give us pause when it comes to recognizing God’s indwelling. Someone else made the observation that getting more deeply in touch with this reality helps in dealing with our ordinary relationships. It is not always so easy to remember, when we are in the midst of some conflict with a family member, for example, that God is in that person as well. I shared with the group a quote from Carol Houselander, who writes
It is very easy to believe in the indwelling presence of Christ in the souls of imaginary people, to believe in it in people whom we don not know. But it is very difficult to believe it in the case of our own relations and our intimate friends….Somehow it is difficult to believe that the Holy Spirit abides in people who are not picturesque.
This Advent period offers us a good time to reflect on where it is difficult for us to be aware of God’s dwelling within us as well as where it is difficult for us to see God’s dwelling in others.