BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD


Week One: Practicing the Presence
Presence of God cover

This month I wanted to return to a book I’ve always liked – The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence (c. 1611 – 1691) was a lay brother in a monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Paris.

Brother Lawrence is well known for what he calls “practicing the presence of God.” He speaks of this practice as “a quiet, continual conversation with God” and also as “the habitual sense of God’s presence” — a habit of allowing yourself to be always with God.

Brother Lawrence says that, to draw close to God, we don’t need anything but this habit of continually conversing with him. We don’t need lots of complex practices or prayers. In fact, Brother Lawrence admitted in a letter that he had given up all spiritual practices except the ones specifically required by his office. He writes:

People seek for methods of learning to love God. They hope to arrive at it by I know not how many different practices; they take much trouble to remain in the presence of God in a quantity of ways. Is it not much shorter and more direct to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the labors of one’s state of life to show Him that love, and to maintain His presence within us by this communion of our hearts with His? There is no finesse about it; one has only to do it generously and simply.

I’ll be honest. Brother Lawrence’s method of being with God is so simple that it sometimes seems difficult. Perhaps we are trained to expect drawing near to God to be complicated, to be a method with many steps and a steep learning curve? Or to intellectualize our relationship with God? (Guilty.) But maybe it doesn’t always have to be this way.

In a letter giving advice about the spiritual growth of a mutual friend, Brother Lawrence describes the practice:

Let him think of [God] as often as he can, especially in the greatest dangers. A little lifting up of the heart suffices. A little remembrance of God, one act of inward worship . . . are prayers, which however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to God . . .

Let him then think of God the most he can. Let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise.

***

The following quotation from a letter provides a good overview of how this practice might be worked out in everyday life:

[God] requires no great matters of us: a little remembrance of Him from time to time; a little adoration; sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company; the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of.

***

More quotes for us to ponder:

I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of God. For my part, I keep myself retired with Him in the fund or center of my soul as much as I can; and while I am so with Him I fear nothing, but the least turning from Him is insupportable.

***

In order to know God, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.

***

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because god would have us.

***

The Practice of the Presence of God consists of the letters of Brother Lawrence, some of his Maxims, and four conversations with him as recorded by a contemporary, Abbe de Beaufort. You can read them here (other editions are widely available).

***

For Reflection

Brother Lawrence week 1

THOMAS MERTON’S PRAYER FOR PENTECOST

Sunday, May 20 was the beginning of the season of Pentecost. Here is Thomas Merton’s prayer for the Vigil of Pentecost. It’s long but worth reading and praying in its entirety.

***

Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you. The distant blue hills praise you together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praise you together with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers, and they all give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence and a diversity of voices.

You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am. In me the world is present and you are present. I am a link in the chain of light and of presence. You have made me a kind of centre, but a centre that is nowhere. And yet I am “here,” let us say I am “here” under these trees, not others.

For a long time I was in darkness and in sorrow, and I suppose my confusion was my own fault. No doubt my own will has been the root of my sorrow, and I regret it merciful father, but I do not regret it because this formula is acceptable as an official answer to all problems. I know I have sinned, but the sin is not to be found in any list. Perhaps I have looked to hard at all the lists to find out what my sin was and I did not know that it was precisely the sin of looking at all the lists when you were telling me that this was useless. My “sin” is not on the list, and is perhaps not even a sin. In any case I cannot know what it is, and doubtless there is nothing there anyway.

Whatever may have been my particular stupidity, the prayers of your friends and my own prayers have somehow been answered and I am here, in this solitude, before you, and I am glad because you see me here. For it here, I think, that you want to see me, and I am seen by you. My being here is a response you have asked of me, to something I have not clearly heard. But I have responded, and I am content: there is little to know about it at present.

Here you ask of me nothing else than to be content that I am your Child and your Friend. Which simply means to accept your friendship because it is your friendship and your Fatherhood because I am your son. This friendship is Son-ship and is Spirit. You have called me here to be repeatedly born in the Spirit as your son. Repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence and in praise.

If I have any choice to make, it is to live here and perhaps die here. But in any case it is not the living or the dying that matter, but speaking your name with confidence in this light, in this unvisited place: to speak your name of “Father” just by being here as “son” in the Spirit and the Light which you have given , and which are no unearthly light but simply this plain June day, with its shining fields, its tulip trees, the pines, the woods, the clouds and the flowers everywhere.

To be here with the silence of Sonship in my heart is to be a centre in which all things converge upon you. That is surely enough for the time being.

Therefore Father, I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it the word of your peace and the word of your mercy and the word of your gentleness to the world: and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

To study truth here and learn here to suffer for truth.

The Light itself, and the contentment and the Spirit, these are enough.

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer from John Wesley (1703-1791):

O Lord, take full possession of my heart, raise there your throne,
and command there as you do in heaven.
Being created by you, let me live for you;
being created for you, let me always act for your glory;
being redeemed by you, let me give to you what is yours;
and let my spirit cling to you alone, for your name’s sake.

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER: JULIAN OF NORWICH

The English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) is remembered on May 8 (in the Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches). This week, let’s pray one of her beautiful prayers:

In you, Father all-mighty, we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Saviour.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well. Amen

Source

WEEKLY PRAYER: ST. PATRICK

A prayer from St. Patrick (excerpted from St. Patrick’s Breastplate):

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Source

Friday Favorites For Prayer and Writing

Welcome to Friday Favorites! Each week, share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Join the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

*****

The Unassuming Habits of Hope via Richard Clark (how do we sow hope in the dry soil of our world?)

What do Gene Kelly and St. Francis have in common? via Jon Sweeney (the answer to this surprising question might surprise you!)

Finding Forgotten Friends: Apprenticing Ourselves to the Past via James K. A. Smith (how the Christian past can give us wisdom and humility for today)

Christians Need Compassion More Than Ever via Ed Cyzewski (on nourishing compassion, rather than anger, for those who believe much differently than we do)

Humbled By Your Sovereign Ways via Jenneth Graser (a prayer poem to help you worship our Creator today)

Balance: Perspectives and Advice on Finding Harmony Amidst Life’s Duties via Redbud Writers Guild (check out the November issue of the Redbud Post for a series of articles on finding balance in your life)

*****

Keep the Contemplative Writer Sustainable

The Contemplative writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous donations of our readers. A one-time gift of even $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers.

Learn how your support can keep this website running: Support Us Today

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a writer, poet, and mystic of the thirteenth century. Not much is known about her life. She lived in present-day Belgium, wrote in Middle Dutch, and was probably part of a beguine community.

In her works, Hadewijch wrote frequently about love and about Christ’s humanity. But she wasn’t afraid of showing a little fire, too. In a letter addressed (probably) to a woman in a beguine community, she wrote about the God complex so many people have. When we have a God complex, we want God’s glory and divinity but not his humanity. This has grave consequences, for it means we’re not willing to suffer as Christ suffered. Hadewijch writes:

[P]eople wish to live with God in consolations and repose, in wealth and power, and to share the fruition of his glory. We all indeed wish to be God with God, but God knows there are few of us who want to live as men with his Humanity, or want to carry his cross with him, or want to hang on the cross with him and pay humanity’s debt to the full. Indeed we can rightly discern this as regards ourselves, in that we are so little able to hold out against suffering in all respects. An unexpected sorrow, though slight, goes to our heart; or a slander, or a lie that people tell about us; or someone’s robbing us of our honor, or our rest, or our own will: How quickly and deeply any of this wounds us all!

By this we show plainly that we do not live with Christ as he lived; neither do we forsake all as Christ did, nor are we forsaken by all as Christ was . . . We do not live with Christ, and we do not carry that cross with the Son of God, but we carry it with Simon who received pay because he carried our Lord’s cross (Matt. 27:32).

I’m really struck by Hadewijch’s comment that we carry the cross for pay – we’re always looking to get paid, either by earning God’s favor or the regard of other people:

We hold in great esteem what we do or suffer for him, and we never resign ourselves to being left without recompense, or without knowing and feeling that it pleases God; we very quickly accept from him pay in the hand, namely satisfaction and repose; we also accept pay a second time in our self-complacency; and a third time, when we are satisfied that we have pleased others, and we accept commendation, honor, and praise from them.

Did you catch that? We get paid three times for carrying Christ’s cross! That, at least, is the temptation. If we don’t (or, rather, shouldn’t) carry this cross for pay, why should we do it? How do we carry the cross with Christ rather than with Simon? We’ll look at Hadewijch’s answer next week.

Until then, think on what Hadewijch said and reflect on this quesion: what kind of pay have you accepted for carrying Christ’s cross this week?

 

 

BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week 4: Get Your Sparkle On

41XzfkDXhhL._SY346_

In reading Hildegard of Bingen’s work, it becomes clear that she highly valued creation and creativity. In our final week exploring Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader, we’ll see what she says about this theme.

Two songs that Hildegard wrote tell of God as designer and animator (the titles to these songs were added by Carmen Butcher, who compiled the selections in the spiritual reader):

The First Daylight

 

You’re the Word of our Father,
the light of the first sunrise,
God’s omnipotent thought.
Before anything was made,
You saw it,
You designed it, and
You tucked Your all-seeing nature in the middle of Your sinew,
like a spinning wheel
with no beginning and no end,
still encircling everything.

*****

The First Verb

 

The Holy Spirit animates
all, moves
all, roots
all, forgives
all, cleanses
all, erases
all
our past mistakes, and then
puts medicine on our wounds.
We praise this Spirit of incandescence
for awakening
and reawakening
all
creation.

*****

In her letters, Hildegard frequently reminded others of God’s creativity. To the Abbess of Bamberg, she wrote:

In the same way that the stars illuminate the sky at night, God made humanity to sparkle. We’re created for maturity. We’re made to give out light like the sun, the moon, and the stars. If a black cloud covered these, the earth and every creature in it would worry that the end had come.

*****

In a letter to Pope Anastasius IV, Hildegard makes a striking moral statement about creativity. She tells the pope that we must reject corruption, injustice, and evil because they are not creative. They are a form of anti-creativity:

Don’t forget that whatever God made, radiates. So listen. Before God made the world, He said to Himself, “There’s My dear Son!” and from this original Word, the world was formed. Then God said, “Be!” and all kinds of animals appeared. Our God creates, but evil is never creative. It’s nothing, merely the by-product of rebellion. Through His Son, God saved humanity, clearly rejecting immorality—stealing, stubbornness, murder, hypocrisy, and bullies.

 

That’s why you as pope must never collude with corruption. If you do, you confuse those who look to you as their leader, because, in effect, you’re saying to them, “Embrace what’s really nothing.”

*****

Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 4.png

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer for generosity from St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556):

Eternal Word, only begotten Son of God,
Teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
To fight heedless of wounds,
To labor without seeking rest,
To sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
Save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen.

Source