Sunday, January 27, 2013

Practicing the Presence

Talk from XLT

Brother Lawrence
When do you feel the presence of God?  Where do you fell the presence of God?

I recently finished a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”  Its considered a spiritual classic.  It was written by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.  He was a lay brother who lived in a Carmelite monastery in Paris in the 17th century.

He spent most of his life within the monastery.  He didn’t have a lofty title or important job.  He spent most of his life working in the kitchen and repairing his brothers’ sandals.

However, he possessed a holiness that drew many people to seek his spiritual guidance.  And the wisdom he passed on to them in conversation and letters became the basis for his book, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

Spending all that time working in the kitchen helped him develop a spirituality that was deeply intertwined with work and the simple tasks of everyday life.

Click here to buy this book.
Once, in conversation with a visitor seeking his wisdom, Brother Lawrence said that  “we should establish ourselves in the presence of God by continually talking to Him... That we should feed our souls on lofty thoughts of God, and so find great joy in being with Him.  That we should surrender ourselves in things temporal and in things spiritual, entirely and with complete abandonment to God...” (PPG p. 24)

He seems to have taken St. Paul, literally, when the Apostle said to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks...” (1 Thes 5:16-18)

However, Brother Lawrence’s ceaseless prayer wasn’t done on the knees of his body.  But rather, on the knees of his heart, his will, and his spirit.

He told one of his directees that practicing the presence of God “consists of renouncing once and for all everything that does not lead to God, so that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with Him, a conversation free of mystery and of the utmost simplicity.  That we needed only to know God intimately present in us, to address ourselves to HIm at every moment, to ask His aid, to discern His will in doubtful things, and to do well those things we see clearly He is demanding of us offering them to Him before doing them and giving Him thanks for having done them for Him after we have done them.”  (PPG p. 37)
And that’s basically it.

It’s a method of simply being aware of God’s presence that is already there, simply waiting for us to engage the Lord in conversation.  It seems too simple right?  I have to admit, when I read the book, I thought to myself, “Really?  So many people came from all over just to hear Brother Lawrence say that?”  And the truth is, it is extremely simple.  But simple doesn’t mean “easy.”  To live as Brother Lawrence did, seeing God in every task of every day of our life, is a challenge.  But a challenge that, if undertaken, will bring us into greater intimacy with God in precisely those moments where He belongs.  Which is simply, every single moment of our lives.

Although it is a challenge, Brother Lawrence reminds us that God gives us everything we need to practice his presence at all times.  He says that God “does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration... the least little remembrance will always be most pleasing to Him.  One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”  (PPG p. 51)

Your presence here right now is a sign that you know something about practicing the presence.  You know quite a bit about it because you’ve come to be here where He is so profoundly present to us in the Eucharist.  What Brother Lawrence suggests is that our experience here won’t end in an hour.  But can be taken with us after we walk out those doors and be sustained by God’s grace until we meet again.

He says, “It is not necessary to be always in church to be with God, we can make a private chapel of our heart, where we can retire from time to time to commune with Him, peacefully, humbly, lovingly... offer Him your heart from time to time during the day in the midst of your work, at every moment if you can; do not burden yourself with rules or particular devotions but act with faith, with love and with humility.” (PPG p. 52)

Practicing the presence of God, which we do now, is pure joy.  Because it is the closest thing to Heaven when will not merely practice the presence of God, but actually live within His presence eternally.  You and I can experience right now, at this very moment, a foretaste of Heaven when the Father will drown you with His love.

“This King,” Brother Lawrence says, “filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite.  He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways;  He forgives me and relieves me of my principal bad habits without talking about them” (PPG p. 55-56).

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