I saw it for the first time on Greene St., Columbia, SC. It was hanging right next to a door of this really old, two-story white house I always walked by on the way to class at USC. On my way to Latin class one morning, I stopped to read the plaque, hoping none inside would question my light trespassery: “Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus, Deus Aderit”. Of course, this was only my first semester of Latin. I asked my professor when I got to class what this said. “Called or uncalled, God is present,” she translated for me and the class. I’ve found since that the phrase comes from the Oracle at Delphi, ironically a Greek not Roman source. Some sayings are true and worthy to be thought upon regardless of their origin of tradition. Thomas Aquinas believed so too, though his employment of the saying was whether you were called by God or not — baptismally speaking — God’s judgement at the end of all things would still be present on yo’ arse, or head, whichever did or didn’t get wet with the water of life.
Since that first encounter with the Greene St. plaque and its welcoming phrase, I’ve always wanted one to hang above the door that led inside my place of residence. What a great sign of invitation, God is present, if you’re summoned and even if you’re not. While in Ireland, Jenny found just such a plaque, though it wasn’t bronze and it wasn’t in Latin, though bronze it does appear. “Bidden or unbidden, God is present,” read the Irish-made handiwork. Finally, friends and strangers, whether invited or not, would know they are welcome at our door. Because of course, without such a sign, plenty of friends and vagrants alike have trod to our doorstep only to turn away for they realized that God was indeed not present. What are you gonna do?
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about this phrase in a different light. I still love reading it in the hospitality bent, but I also have started using this phrase in reverse. Whether bidden or unbidden (and I not the potential guest am doing the bidding here), God is present. Reading it this way reminds me that whether I call God in prayer or not, whether God is invited into my often selfish life, God is always present. So this saying works two ways at once and it seems that if one can live out each side of the saying, that person’s life will always be full of God’s presence and will be celebrating that presence with both friend and stranger.