Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Practice, Practice, Practice...

From time to time it is a useful to revisit the great spiritual classics. Each time I do this, I find those profound thoughts and words which seemed so familiar are fresh and new. They are full of new interpretations in light of the change and growth that happens within me over time. Recently, I have been re-reading one of those well-known classics: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century French monk. His writing is simple and direct and readers immediately feel that he understands our spiritual struggles and failures.

One of the aspects of Brother Lawrence’s thought that grabbed my attention as I read through it again was his singleness. There is one thing he calls us to do and there is nothing complex or incomprehensible about it. Again and again, he draws our attention to one thing simply put: we must be given entirely to God. Every thought, every action, every word belongs to God. In all things, we must first dwell on God’s presence and then think, act, and speak from that presence of God. No matter how trivial our thought, word, or deed may be, even picking up a piece of straw, it must be done to the glory of God. This is the single message. This is what Brother Lawrence says we must practice.

So we set about giving ourselves entirely to God and practicing the presence of God, and within moments, we have become distracted. We have begun to focus on the next task and this great task is forgotten. It is the nature of being human. We can only truly focus on one task at a time. If we are entirely focused on God, we become no “earthly good.” Imagine trying to explain to your boss that you missed a deadline because you were trying to practice the presence of God! But then, if we focus on the earthly task, we forget to give ourselves entirely over. This is our constant struggle.

If Brother Lawrence were with us today, I can imagine him knowingly nodding his head as we describe this dilemma. He would simply tell us to start again. And again and again and again. I wonder if we might come up with some parallel experiences to draw upon. Have you ever tried to change your attitude about something; to think differently by shear effort? “I’m not going to be angry!” “I’m not going to let so-and-so ruin my day!” “I’m determined to enjoy myself under difficult circumstances.” I imagine we have all thought these things from time to time. We know that we can control our thoughts and attitudes. But sometimes it isn’t so obvious. It can be subtle and difficult. But the more we practice it and the more familiar the new attitude becomes, the easier it is to maintain. We can have an attitude of worship. We can cultivate an attitude of obedience. We can develop an attitude of love in all things. We can grow in singleness of heart. Our new attitude may not be constantly conscious, but it can underlie all of our thoughts, words, and actions.

Practicing the presence of God means that our thoughts, words, and actions are always grounded in that Presence. Perhaps our conscious thought is not always about that Presence, but it is always there. Perhaps it is like the love we have for another person. Over time, that love grows. It may not always be at the top of our thoughts, but when we act in relation to that person, we act out of that love. That love is always there whether we are thinking about it or not. It forms every thought, word, and deed that we practice as we relate to the loved one. One difference with the practice of the presence of God is that all of our thoughts, words, and actions are in relation to God. Everything we do, say, or think is formed by that love of God. Everything we do, say, or think springs from the loving practice of the presence of God. This is but one way to begin to grasp what Brother Lawrence has for us.

For Brother Lawrence, there is nothing that requires superhuman smarts about practicing the presence of God. It is simply what must be done. Even for him, it took years of practice. He had to bring his mind and heart back to God again and again, and over time, that singleness became imprinted in his subconscious and constantly bubbled up into his thoughts, words, and actions. He was totally, unreservedly given over to God. The practice of the presence of God became the ground of all else in his life. In those years of practice so many more great insights came to Brother Lawrence.

If you would like to know more about Brother Lawrence and his Practice of the Presence of God, join us for our Blessing the Workplace online retreat, which begins on January 24th. Registration opens on January 10th. Go to for more information.

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