“My lungs breathe even when I’m not aware of my breath. God is with me even when I’m not aware of his presence.”
My friend Paul prayed those words as we began our monthly spiritual-direction session focusing on God’s movement in his life.
Paul continued his prayer, “Hineni—here I am—that’s the word, God, you’ve given me, which, like my breath, invites me back to an awareness of your abiding presence.”
I asked Paul to tell me more about the word hineni— pronounced hee-nay-nee—and it’s importance to him. He said it was the Hebrew word Abraham spoke when God called him to the mountaintop to sacrifice his son Isaac.
“Hineni—here I am,” Abraham said as he stood ready to drive a knife into his son’s body to complete the sacrifice God had called him to perform.
“Hineni—here I am,” was God’s reply as he took the knife from Abraham’s hand.
Paul said, “I got to thinking how God is always present to me, but I miss it—his presence—because I get caught up in household chores, making a living, and the busyness of life. But, over the last few weeks, I’ve carved out morning time in which to meditate, and I’ve become more aware of that Presence. I start each day in the quiet by focusing on my breath. I place my hands on my chest, feel my lungs expand, and recognize my breath—the breath of life—sustains me—just like God.”
I invited Paul to tell me more.
“When I show up in the morning to be alone with God, it’s like I hear him say to me, ‘Here I am.’ And as I focus on my breath, I respond back, ‘Hineni—here I am.’ I recognize how much God loves and guides me. And I’m falling more deeply in love with him.”
Later, I reflected on Paul’s words. Hineni is the reply of someone called to perform an important task. “Here I am—Hineni,” said Abraham, Moses, and many other prophets when God called their names. It’s also the promise God provides when he tells us in scripture, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.” (Isaiah 58:6-9).
Maybe the task God’s chosen for all eternity is to reveal his love for us in countless ways, such as:
Here I am in the quiet, comforting you, guiding you, showing you the pathway to inner peace.
Here I am in the mourning dove’s coo as she sings tender chants of delight, rejoicing in the gift of another day.
Here I am in the colors of the sunrise that fill your heart with the taste of my delicious light.
Here I am in your loved ones who hold you and journey with you, revealing the gift of my love embodied in their lives.
Here I am to comfort you when you suffer, and I hold you with my unconditional love.
Perhaps the task we’ve been given, if we so choose, is to show up, to know the Creator’s abiding love, and respond to him, “Hineni—here I am too,” with words such as:
Here I am to receive your love, Lord, to let it embrace me, let it fill me with your compassion and delight.
Here I am to be your Beloved, to let your favor rest upon me.
Here I am to notice your Presence and let it become our sacred story.
Here I am to rest my head upon your breast and let you nourish me with your love.
Here I am to do the work of your hands, to embody your presence in my life, and fulfill my task of loving you, myself, and others with the gift of your grace.
Maybe “here I am” is a two-way street. It symbolizes a rich relationship in which God and we show up, become aware of one another’s presence in each moment, and embrace the important tasks we’ve been given—to abide in love with each other.
Sometimes when I don’t feel God’s presence, I tell him, “I miss you. Where are you?” Often I hear God whisper in response, “Here I am,” and we smile.
I wonder if God sometimes feels our absence too. In those moments, does he yearn for us, asking, “Where are you?” and then await our reply?
We’re not always aware of God’s abiding presence. It takes inner work, focus, and daily soul care to shift our attention to the Great Here-I-Am.
—brian j plachta
Note: The directee’s name has been changed for privacy and his permission obtained.