In a sense I long for the visible kind of presence God had among his people in the time of the Exodus. Sometimes I need a bit of smoke and fire to stoke my imagination, to help me know that His presence is real. I guess I want a wizard, someone like the Wizard of Oz (only not a fraud), or majestic lion like Aslan, or even a place like the tabernacle where I know God lives (even if I'm not the one who sees Him). At times I've been in deep trouble in life, and yet not "felt" His presence; at other times, I've been relatively happy, without perceived need, and yet "sensed" His presence. So what gives?
Perhaps the answer is something like "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit"(Jn. 3:8). We no more command the felt Presence of God with us anymore than we decide who God will save, who He will reveal Himself to. He does as He pleases, for some unfathomable but good reason.
But He promises He is with us. Always. Brother Lawrence, the poor monk in charge of sandals, the self-described "great awkward fellow who broke everything," practiced God's presence by continually conversing with Him. I know that. I wish I could remember that. Lawrence practiced the presence of God by, as he put it, "keeping the soul's gaze fixed on God in faith, calmly, humbly. lovingly, without allowing an entrance to anxious cares and disquietude." He would not quit the conversation. He habitually looked to God. He didn't say it was easy but, rather, was a habit formed by trying and failing, trying and failing. But one thing he doesn't seek after is the emotional sense of God's presence. He assumes it, and He talks to God as if to not do so would be to shun a great ongoing conversation.
So maybe smoke and fire are not needed after all. Just the practiced habit of faith.