Sometimes, in fact more often than not, God seems some very distant figure--rather like a stage director in the tragedy or comedy of our lives. I know that I often suffer from this. When I am saying morning prayer and I'm feeling particularly dry, I imagine the words trailing up like smoke from a fire, taking an idle turn about Heaven and joining those much more grateful, robust strands of incense in the great Throneroom where certainly God can notice them, but does He? I often feel at a very great distance. And the reality is, of course, that I am, because I have placed myself there. I have chosen to be at a great distance for one reason or another that I may not even be aware of.
In the course of a day, or a week, or a month, I can and do move closer, or I should more properly say, I feel closer, because I could not possibly be closer. Because of my baptism and the grace of my confirmation I have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that proceeds from the love of the Father and the Son for each other is part of my make-up. I may ignore Him, I may not turn a thought to Him at any time. I may choose some other substitute for Him. But He is there, and when I cannot pray, He is praying with groanings beyond human hearing.
But what about the feeling? I've always wondered about this, and it is a very difficult point. We humans place so much trust in feelings that change and transmute, are here today and gone five seconds later. We can plunge from ecstatic happiness to tears in a matter of moments. We can rise from the abyss (but that always seems to take a great deal longer). St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila teach us that feelings are another example of "consolations" in prayer. They are sometimes granted for the purposes of strengthening our resolve, but they are not to be sought after.
My preferred thinking about this feeling of closeness parallels the teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux on Love. While Love carries with it feelings of involvement, it is not primarily a feeling, it is a continual series of actions--it is a movement of the will that results in a movement of the person to action on part of the loved one. So too the feeling of closeness to God. We should not trust or rely upon feeling, it is deceptive and potentially destructive. Here we must trust our minds to allow the truth to trickle down to our hearts and change them. Whether we "feel" God's presence or not, we are told that He is present. It is a tenet of our faith that not only is He present, but He lives within us. And if we direct our attention to Him for a moment, we know it--we may not feel it, but we do know it in some way that transcends rational thought. Trust the knowing and forget the feeling. In this case the feelings may be manipulated by any number of factors. Loving God and feeling His presence, is an act of will that results in tangible actions toward those around us. It is something that should occupy our every waking moment. Loving God, who loves us enough to live within us despite conditions that would resemble deepest, darkest Detroit at our very best times, is the one key to life on Earth. Loving Him despite what we may feel about His distance or His lack of concern.
God is concerned about us. He does love us. And sometimes the love He shows us is harsh and difficult. We would prefer to live our own lives than the life of love of God. I think about St. Thérèse and the awfulness of the last 18 months of her life--the terrible darkness in which she lived, uncertain even of the existence of God, and yet, in some mysterious way, never doubting and never ceasing her enormous love for Him. l so much so that her dying words, "O How I Love Him," still resound in the miracles she performs and in the immediacy with which she seems to attend each person who earnestly implores her assistance.
Closeness to God is a reality. Our feelings are untrustworthy. As Scrooge says to Marley regarding why he does not trust his senses, "A little thing can disturb them. You could be a bit of undigested beef or a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you." So too our feelings about God--they are moved by little motions within us--fear and anger are the principle currents that drive how close we feel. We cannot control our emotions, or if we do so they may ultimately turn on us anyway, but we can balance the emotional sense of things with the reality that we face over and over when we open the Bible. We are "the apple of His eye," we are "written on the palm of His hand." We are the people of John 3:16--"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on Him should not die but should have life everlasting." When our feelings get in the way, we need to retreat, even if only momentarily, to reality.