The class discussion had been heavy, and our professor, a minister with a short blonde bob and long red sweater, surveyed the shrunken souls. We were like raisins. Shriveled. Dehydrated. Burnt. We needed refreshment and relief, so she invited us to pray.
She asked us all to stand, feet apart, eyes closed. At her instruction, we lifted our arms high above our heads and said, “Christ above me.” We returned our arms to our sides and said, “Christ below me.” We continued, our arms stretching and swinging, our voices saying, “Christ before me.” And, “Christ behind me.” And, “Christ around me.” And, finally, “Christ within me.”
We repeated the prayer again and again. Moving our arms. Taking deep breaths. Acknowledging our God. After a few rounds, the heaviness lifted. My shoulders straightened. My soul loosened up. My mind slowed down. The despair drifted. The hope reappeared.
After a few more rounds, I stopped saying the words aloud and settled my hands near my heart. For a few minutes, I stood in still silence, letting the Lord move and speak instead.
Following that class, I took the prayer practice with me. I did it at my desk at work, after getting an angry email but before replying. I did it during my lunch break, after eating my turkey sandwich but before returning to the office. I did it at home, when my mind was sluggish or anxious. I did it at the doctor’s office, while waiting to see the specialist. I did it at the DMV, while waiting to hear my number. I did it at gas stations, next to the pump. I did it at parties, in a bathroom. I did it whenever I stopped feeling the presence of Christ. I did it whenever I stopped trusting the presence of Christ.
Oftentimes, this simple prayer practice revives my soul, just as it did in that classroom so many years ago. It instantly wraps me in the divine presence.
Other times, of course, I swing my arms until they’re tired and speak the words until they’re meaningless, and Christ still seems nowhere nearer. Even in those moments, however, the prayer disrupts and disputes those voices insisting that Christ is inaccessible. Even when the prayer does not instantly lift the despair, it prevents the despair from taking root.
We hear echoes of this struggle and this solution even in the Letter to the Colossians. Paul describes Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
It is a beautiful and important but dense passage. You could dwell – or write a dissertation – on any one of its phrases. Even the most superficial reading, however, affirms that through Christ, the Triune God is both immanent in and transcendent of all creation. Or, as the Cliff Notes version might say, it affirms that Christ is above, below, before, behind, around, and within us.
We all have experiences of Christ’s intimate presence and His seeming absence. The spiritual journey, it seems, to include waves of both. And, no prayer can summon the consolation of Christ’s presence immediately and always. No experience of Christ’s absence, however, can take away the truth of God’s immanence and transcendence.
So, I offer you this prayer, just as my professor offered it to me, just as Paul offered it to the Colossians. For when your soul feels dehydrated. For when God feels distant. For when you feel at risk for forgetting that Christ is above you; Christ is below you; Christ is before you; Christ is behind you; Christ is around you; and Christ is within you.