This time Canyon Road greeted us with a few surprises. Biting cold, rather than the dry summertime breezes typical of the New Mexican high country. Wall-to-wall people, instead of the usual meandering of summertime tourists that stroll the three-quarter-mile stretch of art galleries, studios, and homes that line Santa Fe’s famed art colony. And if you know someone in the vicinity, the locals told us, there’s a good chance you’ll run into him or her. “Everyone walks the Road on Christmas Eve.” So Jo Ann and I began our walk, hoping to connect with friends who were in the area. Sure enough we did—by cell phone.
“It sounds like you’re here,” I shouted, “but where?
“We’re in front of the such-and-such gallery,” our friend shouted back, struggling to be heard over the crowd noise.
The name of the gallery was unfamiliar to me, so we agreed that we’d keep walking up the road and hopefully run into each other. An hour later, on our return trip, we finally spotted the place. It hadn’t been up the road at all, but directly across the street from where I made the call. Hooking up with our friends hadn’t been a problem of distance, but of direction—we’d been looking and traveling in the wrong one.
A few days later, over lunch, we laughed about the irony of having someone be so close, yet unseen, as if they were miles away. I call it my Canyon Road lesson—in the midst of separation, first assume there’s closeness.
If I ever start to wonder about God’s presence, the significance of that lesson comes through in quiet, thoughtful moments of prayer. Nearness to God, I’m reminded, is not only what one yearns to feel in prayer, but ideally what should be the starting point. People want to feel, and will benefit from, God’s gentle, healing presence, because it’s there. God is All and everywhere.
Instead of ending my conversation with our friend, choosing to wander up and down Canyon Road on the chance we’d connect, I wish I’d kept her on the phone, feeding me whatever direction I might need in order to get from where I was to where she was. I’m certain we would have connected. After all, we were never far from each other in the first place.
I’ll remember that. When someone wants to find God, really yearns for spiritual closeness more than anything else, he or she will experience it. Why? Because divine Spirit is there. If you’re passing through deep waters, God is there. Rough rivers? There, too. Scorching fire? Dark of night? Whatever the circumstances, the Holy One is with everyone and cares for everyone. “Fear not: for I am with thee,”1 is God’s never-broken promise to Isaiah, and to all people.
People want to feel God’s presence—and they can.
Need further convincing? I do sometimes. That’s when I recall that the only thing that would hide the divine presence from anyone is a veil of doubt or apathy or fear—a veil each person has the ability to remove.
Over the years, I’ve found that the teachings of Christian Science in Science and Health are wonderfully effective at veil-removal. Like the afternoon my daughter was ill. She asked me to help her through prayer.
Yet this time, even though I was giving it my best, my prayer was having no noticeable effect on her. I would hear occasional groans of discomfort as she lay in bed, and that led to my having more doubt than confidence. Was I doing something wrong? Was God not responding because in some way I’d not been good enough?
Then, in a quiet, I’m-all-yours-Father moment, I received a message from God. It was both corrective and comforting. The thought that came to me was that my daughter’s well-being is not the effect of my prayers, but of God. God is her Maker, so she’s always whole and perfect just as she was made to be, and I needed to understand that.
This thought came with such conviction and power that I knew it to had be the truth, piercing right through the doubt enveloping me at the time. My eyes and ears had been far off base, reporting that God, good, isn’t around to be seen or heard or felt, and that I was foolish for believing He was.
But God is here, I thought, and He’s speaking to me and my daughter, directing, loving, helping, each of us. I knew that. I now felt that presence. I understood that there’s nothing operating counter to God, nothing to cause or permit His child to be ill. I held that ground confidently, and within the hour our daughter was back to her normal, cheerful self.
Wanting to be close to God shouldn’t slip into something one longs for only when everything is falling apart. I want to be with God as much He is with me—when I’m driving, eating, working, sleeping, conversing, walking. Everywhere. And it’s good to know that even in those times when I’ve slipped and carelessly assumed that I was doing fine on my own—even then God was with me, with hand outstretched, patient, giving, still treating me better than the best of personal friends.
I know that when we return to Canyon Road some day it will take us only a moment or two to sink back into the welcome-home charm of the narrow walkways, adobe structures, and rustic gardens. No doubt, we’ll recall the comical missed opportunity to connect with one of our “close” friends.
We’ll also remember, with awe, its companion lesson, to always assume there is closeness—of good friends, and of God.