It was sometime during elementary school, but I still remember that moment when I first realized I was surrounded by . . . air! I wasn’t surrounded by nothing, I was surrounded by something. The wonder carried me away: I was swimming through the air. If I raised my arm above my shoulder, it meant the air around me was moving, too.
My childish imagination kicked in strong: what would it be like to see the air, cool blue and warm red? Was I breathing colors? I saw it with my imagination: inhale a faint celestial blue and exhale rose-colored pink. I could see the air move and mix and blend, or watch it settle, still and motionless, level as a lake. My head was filled with Impressionist masterpieces, the sky swirling with hues and shades too subtle for those in a hurry, but a rainbow for those with eyes to see.
But before long higher education crushed my wonder. In science class I learned about air pressure and wind resistance. The beauty of my childhood faded into the orthodoxy of physics, climate, and chemistry. The atmosphere became one more domain to be studied and measured.
Until one day. (I remember this day as well.) I read the amazing words of Paul as he addressed the skeptical, logical people of Athens, that city where diplomats and philosophers gathered on a hill named Mars, for the God of war. Paul quoted a Greek mystic from centuries before, and I saw the invisible God in much the same way I had imagined how the air must be:
“ . . . For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
The child in me was released again. I saw again the living, moving, breathing God! How could I avoid him—and more important: how could I have missed him? When I walk from the bedroom to the kitchen, I walk through God. When I walk into a new situation, God is there, waiting for me. Even the darkness is light to him. He inhabits the day and the night. Intuitively I understood a distinction: everything is not God, but God is in everything. True, the theologians had already told me God was omnipresent, but in doing so they reduced him to a concept I could memorize and recite. But I do not need lifeless facts; I need him.
“He is not far from each one of us.” The vast Creator surrounds us like the air. We breathe the air. It penetrates through our lungs to our very blood, and the blood delivers it to every cell. God himself is the life-giving air. Our vast swirling God is also intimate enough to be with each of us.
I used to think silence meant God was not speaking. Now, in the silence, he’s all I hear. We need not go anywhere to find him, because the slightest shift of our gaze reveals his nearness. If I am alive, if I move, I am encountering him. In every part of my being, he is here. Can you see the air?