Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Practicing the Presence

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:64).

I’ve been planning to introduce this person to you since the “my95” series began. I’ve been stalling, waiting for the right moment, the right day. Now that the “my95” series is nearly over it’s clear to me that there won’t be a right moment, or that there’s wisdom in the familiar “no time like the present.” So here’s my introduction.

He is known to us simply as Brother Lawrence. We know very little about him. He was born Nicholas Herman in Lorraine, served for a time in the military, became a Christian at the age of 18, and then at some point entered a Carmelite monastery near Paris. This obscure monk gave us one of the classic pieces of Christian literature, a work that remains in print to this day. First published in 1693, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God is a gift to followers of Jesus, especially those seeking to understand their ordinary daily life as an arena for God’s activity.

Brother Lawrence worked in the monastery kitchen, and the discipline of “Practicing the Presence” allowed him to keep company with God at his labors just as intimately as in the chapel service or in his private devotions. Lawrence wrote

It is not needful always to be in church to be with God. We can make a chapel of our heart, to which we can from time to time withdraw to have gentle, humble, loving communion with him. Everyone is able to have these familiar conversations with God, some more, some less – he knows our capabilities. Perhaps he only waits for us to make one whole hearted resolve.

A little over three hundred years ago, a Carmelite cook was writing about “my95.” In many ways his book could be a resource for us in our own efforts to live a whole life of faith. If nothing else, this much is obvious: the presence of God can be practiced.

Maybe we can go a step further. Not only can the presence of God be practiced, it must be – or we’ll never grasp the heart of “my95.”

Any endeavor in which excellence is displayed – singing, acting, golfing, teaching, surgery, cabinet building – all demonstrations of excellence are buttressed by a repetition of basic skills. Those who work and perform with excellence have practiced. They have executed certain behaviors over and over and over again.

If we want to live our faith effectively in the marketplace, if we want to partner with God in the daily tasks of our lives, we will need to practice the presence of God.

For Lawrence this meant a deliberate focus of thought on God. We’re not monks, and the demands of your mini-van or office are far from a cloistered life, but you can practice God’s presence.

You practice praying for a coworker, or praying before a meeting. You practice being a thankful person. You commit a piece of scripture to memory. You make yourself turn off the radio for those last minutes of your commute, entering the closest thing you can find to silence.

The possibilities are many – but the practice is yours alone to carry out. Lawrence was probably right. God is waiting for us to give it a try. He promises to be present.

As this day begins, O God, I invite you to be present with me. I pray for the help of your spirit that I might be present to you. Teach me what it means to practice your presence in the details of my life. Amen.

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