“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.” – Romans 10:8b
When you’re down and troubled
And you need some lovin’ care
And nothin’, nothin’ is goin’ right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night.
You may recognize these lyrics from Carole King’s song “You’ve Got a Friend,” which hit the charts in 1971 when I was a junior in high school. The song was recorded that same year by James Taylor, whose version may be as well-known as Ms. King’s is.
Years later James Taylor told Rolling Stone magazine that King had told him that the song was a response to a line in Taylor’s earlier song “Fire and Rain.” That line was “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.” King’s response to that line is repeated in the song’s refrain:
You just call out my name
And you know, wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’
to see you again.
Paul writes to these Roman believers calling their attention to what he’s learned after his encounter with the risen Christ, which is that the living God is the God of Jew and Gentile alike. Rescued from a life of religious bigotry, Paul knows this God as near, as utterly gracious. God is as near as our impulse to cry “Help!” Paul invites his readers to trust the risen Christ and, invoking the name of Christ, make their own appeal directly and intimately to God.
Some years back I took time for a silent retreat to practice Centering Prayer, which is a way of silent sitting in the presence of God, inviting God to inhabit us. During that retreat, we had an hour with Fr. Thomas Keating. He assured us that this practice was not about achieving anything, or about performing something to impress God. It was simply a practice in which we try to let go of preoccupations and allow God to love us.
As I practice this prayer I can’t say that I always feel a strong sense of God’s presence. But the more I practice, the more I realize that typically it’s my distractedness that keeps me from this sense of the nearness of God. So I keep on, growing in trust that my distractedness does not negate the nearness of God.
God of the Silence: Calm and quiet my soul at the fount of your loving presence. In your silence, replenish me with a force for love, especially for those who are most demanding. When there is nowhere else to go, inspire me to drop into my heart and find your life-giving grace there, weaving the fabric of human reality into a tapestry of love. Amen.
-Fr. Jonathan Weldon
(Peter Traben Haas, Centering Prayers: A One-Year Daily Companion for Going Deeper into the Love of God.)