Other people is where God is

“I hate being here,” I snarled at Jesus.

I was in adoration, for my appointed hour. This is what I get for shouting far and wide how wonderful adoration is, how marvelous, how life-changing, how all-but-essential: I sign up for a slot . . . and so does this other guy. 

This other guy, who barges into the tiny, dim, sacred, space humming and whistling, grunting and wheezing comfortably, like he’s meeting his pals at the VA bar. He plonks his stuff down on the floor, and sometimes taps out a jazzy little rhythm on his thighs. If he spots someone he knows, he’ll gab about the weather or his sore hip. Right out loud, right in front of the monstrance! Finally, preliminaries over, he’s ready to act like he’s in a chapel, and so he drags out a rattling sheaf of prayer booklets and begins to pray . . . out loud. In a whisper, technically, but loud enough that you can hear every single word.

This is bullshit. I want to be with Jesus, to lay my turmoil and agitation at His feet, and reconnect with Him, who brings peace. I want to read my Ratzinger book, which is helping me know Christ better. I want to make the most out of this one measly hour, because I knew this is where Jesus wants me to be. But none of that is going to happen, thanks to Mr. Oblivious who won’t get out of the way. Yes, friend-o, we all pray. Yes, we’re big fans of the rosary here. But what the HELL makes you think it’s okay to monopolize the entire room with your own personal devotions? I could barely hear myself think, let alone pray.

And I have misophonia, which makes it almost physically painful to hear mouth noises, especially in a small, enclosed space. Smacking and slurping and snorting engender irrational rage and panic that I haven’t figured out how to overcome in four decades. How and why a man could smack, slurp, and snort his way through five decades of a rosary, I do not know, but I am your witness: It can be done. 

“I hate it here,” I told Jesus. “I don’t want to be here.” 

Now you think this is going to be a story where I learn to drop my spiritual pretensions and come to understand that we do not meet God only in silent, spiritually elegant moments, but that God speaks to us in the rattling, baaing, shambling herd of our fellow sheep.  It may not be edifying and it may not look well on a gilded holy card, but it’s so much more satisfyingly real. 

Heck, I thought it was going to be that kind of story, myself. I remembered hearing that St. Theresa (I forget which one) was driven batty by one of her fellow sisters rattling her rosary chains in the chapel. But she was a saint, so apparently you could use even annoying people to get closer to God. Right, Lord? That seems like something saints do. No one’s going to be the insurmountable obstacle that keeps me from getting to God, not even some kind of psychopath who doesn’t know how to behave in adoration. 

Wait, he’s done with his rosary! Maybe he’ll quiet–

Nope. “Sakeuvissorrafapassion, mercyonusss, onnahoworld. . . sakeuvissorrafapassion, mercyonusss, onnahoworld . . .”

I put my fingers in my ears, discreetly. Then I put my fingers in my ears indiscreetly. I even turned around twice and (I’m not proud of this. Any of this) administered a fleeting Adoration Stinkeye. I stewed. I sighed. I wrestled with true red-brain rage. And I prayed. I prayed most earnestly to God for aid, that He would help me tune these disruptions out, that I could overcome the things that were distracting me from having a good and fruitful experience with Him.

And He says to me, He says: “That man isn’t being distracting. You’re being distracting.”


I hope I can convey to you how different this was from what I was expecting. I guess I was expecting for God to somehow arrange it so that I could be alone with Him, even despite everyone else in the chapel. That I would not hear, or not care, or not have to deal with the distraction of other people. I was quite convinced that being alone with God was the goal we both wanted. That’s what adoration is for! Isn’t it?

But instead, I saw very clearly that this desire to be alone with the Lord — this desire to have the experience that seemed fruitful to me — this desire to get what I came for — the desire to be in control, even to bring about something objectively good — that was the distraction, and I was carrying it in front of me like a shield; a shield between me and Christ.

If that man had not been there, and if I had come in and knelt down and read quietly and prayed what I wanted to pray, I would have come and gone still carrying that shield. I just wouldn’t have known it.

I’m always carrying that shield. I don’t like other people. I want them to leave me alone so I can accomplish what I think is fruitful. I want them to be quiet. I want them to behave to accommodate me. Not only in the dim, sacred space of the adoration chapel, but everywhere, at all times. It’s not that I have some pietistic fantasy of aesthetic loveliness in my prayer life. It’s that I want it to go my way, every time. I want to be able to yell at Him, alone. I want to tell Him I love Him, alone. I want to be able to have ugly prayers, alone. But I am always disrupted from doing what I want to do because I am always distracted by other people. And I clutch that distraction firmly to my breast, because it protects me. It shields me from God, even as I complain to Him that we never get to be together. I saw the shield, almost with my actual eyes. My fingers ached from clutching it so hard.

And I looked at Christ, in the monstrance. No shield there. Just a willingness to be with all comers. 

So what did I do?  Ever gracious, I shouted “FINE!” at Jesus, and went ahead and dove headfirst into being with other people, if apparently that’s SO GREAT and WHAT GOD WANTS, apparently. I started to pray along with the prayers Mr. Annoying was praying. “You give me this man?” I said. “Fine, then he can be my FUCKING RETREAT LEADER sorry.” And I started shambling and sputtering and mumbling alone with him. What he prayed, I prayed. I leaned right in. Never mind the important things I needed to pray through. Never mind the illuminating truths that were waiting for me in the next pages of my book. Never mind. NEVER MIND, apparently! Have mercy on us, and on the whole world, apparently! Have mercy on us, and on the whole world!

Have mercy on us.

Have mercy on us, and on the whole world. 

Have mercy. On us.


Would you believe it, my rage drained away, and it did not come back. What rushed into its place, I’m not ready to name; but it felt like the presence of God. 

Because, apparently, other people is where God is. You don’t get past other people to get to God. You don’t use people to get closer to God. You can’t use people at all, if you want to be close to God. All you can do is be with people, and . . . that’s where God is. I don’t know what that means, but it sure is what happened to me today. I wanted to be in the chapel because that’s where God is; and guess who was also there? Other people. Sometimes the obvious answer is the answer. Other people is where God is. 

I’m not going to lie: I hope that man isn’t there next week. He really was terribly annoying, and I know enough not to hope I can somehow replicate this experience next time around. And I know better than to hope I’m somehow transformed from now on. But I do want to remember this: Other people is where God is. The world is full of people, and people is where God is. Have mercy on us, on us, on us, on the whole world.  

Image: “Harmonie” by Alexandre Cabanel [Public domain]

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13 thoughts on “Other people is where God is”

  1. Boy, I could have been the one who wrote the first half of this!! I really struggle with this type of thing. One thing, though. It might be better not to have curse words in writings like this.

  2. I laughed out loud when I read this article. Because I found it SO true. You totally captured what happens to me when I have to share prayer space others. Sometimes the best I can do is offer it up. And remember that that’s a prayer, too.

  3. Excellent insight, as usual.
    I wanted to share this though. I was recently at adoration and to my surprise it was in our tiny, 2-pew “crying room”. It was impossible to get away from the lady behind me whispering her prayers (but not quite loud enough for me to be able to join in as you did). You would think with six kids I would be able to tune such a thing out but….I couldn’t. Then I remembered I still had a pair of those squishy ear plugs in my pocket from work. Problem solved! When I mentioned it later my husband, who was sitting next to me (and whose halo was NOT ruffled, apparently), said he had not noticed me put them in, so it can be done discreetly. Whatever it takes, I say!

  4. You’re a bigger person than I am. It’s not often that I have the opportunity to go to Adoration, but when I do, 50% of the time I end up leaving in order to avoid the near occasion of sin from being annoyed by people praying out loud, making mouth noises, etc.

    1. Well, further proof that the timing of this post was uncanny: as I mentioned, I rarely have the chance to go to Adoration. Today my son went to a four-hour basketball camp (first time I’ve ever just dropped him off and left him at a program…). So I decided to go to Confession at our local Franciscan chapel. Adoration was going on in the chapel while I was in the Confession line, and the line took much longer than usual (I waited almost an hour). 40 minutes into my unplanned Holy Hour, a man who was clearly mentally ill cut ahead of the line. Normally I wouldn’t have minded, but Confession was going to end soon, and it was obvious the man would not be quick, and I really didn’t want to miss Confession after waiting for almost an hour. I wasn’t rude about it, but I did express to his Aide that I wasn’t pleased about him cutting the line, and explained to her that I wouldn’t have minded if we weren’t down to the wire with getting in before Confessions ended. Well, the priest (who I have never met before) was very gracious about it and was willing to go late so I could go in (as well as the man who was in line behind me), and he ended up being one of the best confessors I’ve ever gone to. Your post definitely came to mind!

  5. Perhaps God is trying to get my attention. First Caryll Houselander with her “no, really, people are *The* mystical Body of Christ” stuff, now you with this which is… yep. Exactly. All of it, including the huffing at God.

  6. Ahhh, Simcha. You hit me right in the heart—again, drat you! Not only the part about the annoying man, but the part about the people invasion of life and sensibilities. I was an only child, a loner, lonely to the max, and I swore it would change. It did, and all those people & things (work, family, house, etc.) got in the way of things I just knew I was really capable of, like get a degree. Sound familiar? I used it as a shield and, when those people grew up, I thought now was the time, but guess what? The kids are coming home, this time with grandchildren, the hubby is retired and at loose ends, the house is older & needs more attention than I have money for, still have the myriad of home/church duties despite my vow to make room for studies. Sigh. Like you, I hear a quiet voice telling me to shut up and schlep along with it because, in the end, God decides how, where and when he wants your prayers and good works, but especially, with who. I have decided a”B” average is o.k. for someone of the wrong side of age 69 with what time I can squeeze out, clean floors and “quick food” are negotiable, well, you get the idea–reflective quiet holy moments come when my jumbled self gives thanks and, like you, say God, have mercy on us and the whole world.

  7. Beautifully written and incredibly honest. Thank you for that. I think we all struggle with that desire for God to be anywhere other than the annoying person next to me.

  8. The title of this in my in-box caught my eye. I sighed a little, as I suspect it to be true, and even though the idea appalls me a little too.It puts a little shiver down my spine if I’m at an amusement park.

    On the brighter side of things, I have to say that working outside the home has been an incredibly enlightening experience. People aren’t nearly as awful as I’d thought! I’ve met a ton of new people who are kind, charming, discreet, and who say “thank you” all. the. time. Even if they are putting their best faces forward, I’d say that 98% of them are really, good and nice. It’s actually intimidating somewhat. My co-workers and I gossip energetically about the other 2% :/ It’s mostly for entertainment but it makes me feel bad. They love my impressions of the stinkers. Ah guilt. The other day during holy week, I was guiltily defending someone and they looked at me like I was a big ole kill-joy.

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