Process Theology, de Caussade, and the Sacrament of the Present Moment
Recently, I have been reflecting on the work of Jean-Pierre Caussade (1675-1751), French Jesuit spiritual guide and author of the “Abandonment to Divine Providence,” often referred to as “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” While steeped in the Catholic theology of his day, de Caussade provides valuable guidance for today’s spiritual seekers. His work can enliven and enlighten those who want to experience God’s presence in the joys and sorrows of everyday life. Each moment is sacramental and can become a window to divinity for those whose senses are open to God’s moment by moment providence.
Mysticism is about presence. It’s about intentionally cleansing the doors of perception, so that we join the infinity of God with our finite tasks. For the mystic, divine presence is everything. As process theologians assert, God comes to us in every encounter. Each moment of experience emerges from an array of divine possibilities, energetically seeking embodiment in our daily lives. The world, as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead says, lives by the incarnation of God and the micro and the macro world reflect uniquely God’s aim at the production of beauty of experience. Not caught up in past achievements, God is constantly giving birth to new images, emerging in our experiences and in in every encounter. God comes to us in our souls and also in our cells, and in every encounter, positive or negative, something of God shines through, reminding us that in all things, even those God has not chosen, God is working to bring forth beauty, justice, liveliness, and love.
De Caussade begins his treatise with the affirmation, “today God speaks to us as [God] did our ancestors.” God offers us new tasks every moment of the day. The duties life brings us are expressions of God’s will. (23) Divine presence and providence flow through everything, “every fiber of our body and soul…God’s activity runs through the universe. It wells up and around and penetrates every created being.” (25-26) In this God-filled world, our calling is to discover what God has arranged and planned for us. (27) While process theologians might suggest a more open-ended vision of divine activity, process theology equally affirms the ubiquity of God’s presence, coming to us through the past, our current ruminations, the leaning of possibilities toward the open future, and through each encounter and event, all of which are touched and guided to greater or lesser extent by God, depending on the openness and receptivity of the created world.
We need to look God in the manure as well as the beautiful. Even the manure can be fertilizer for personal growth and communal healing. While we lament and are outraged by the USA government’s treatment of children on the borderlands or the repressive actions of state legislatures who have abandoned women’s experience in favor of ethical abstractions, within these difficult moments, divine inspiration is present. In the unmasking of racism, sexism, and misogyny, our illusions are stripped and in seeing political machinations for what they are, we may be mobilized as prophets of old to confront injustice, motivated by God’s vision of Shalom.
Neither God nor we want such deathful actions to occur, but even in the deathful decisions of national and state leaders, a ray of divine possibility peeks through, inspiring us to stand for the oppressed and marginalized. God’s life within us “generates fresh activities every moment.” (44) God is not confined, as de Caussade notes, to the pages of ancient scriptures, even our Bibles; we are part of “the book the Holy Spirit is still writing.” (45)
The spiritual wisdom of process theology and de Caussade is found in the recognition that we find God’s vision, what some call God’s will, in concrete experience, not abstraction; in process, not dead doctrine; in the living of each day leaning toward the future, whole-heartedly giving thanks for past revelations and achievements, but constantly asking “what is the duty of this present sacramental moment?”
In this moment, God is alive, direction is found, healing may occur, and injustice may be challenged and overcome.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, writer, and professor, and author of 50 books, including “The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World,” “Become Fire: Guideposts for Interspiritual Pilgrims,” and “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God.”