If God is everywhere equally present, then…

He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Brother Lawrence, St Ignasius, and countless others, past and present, tell us how and where to find God, to hear His directions and desires for our lives.

This morning I was reading Nouwen’s book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life. In today’s passages he was discussing finding God in the books that we read and in nature.  These venues can be especially helpful, often making it easier for us to hear His voice, see His beauty, feel His presence, taste and savor His many blessings on our lives.

Still, another message hit me as I read. As clearly and as demandingly as if it were flashing in neon atop a tall billboard I was struck by the certainty that:

If God is everywhere equally present, then He can be found, felt…perceived in any place.

If God is everywhere equally present, as I believe and have been taught, then, simply being conscious of Him in our midst is the key … and the challenge.

No matter where we are, who we’re with, what is occurring, God is there. Walking down the street, on a treadmill at the gym, on a forest path, along the water, in a line at the grocery store, driving down the road.

To be sure, some places are more conducive to feeling our Lord’s presence, but He’s everywhere, just waiting for us to join Him in His holy purpose. Waiting for us to walk with Him along the way He has planned for us. Waiting for us to acknowledge His presence with us.

No matter the circumstances of our surroundings — whether beautiful, natural, sanctified and holy; or man-made full of industry and technology, metallic maybe, full of cold hard surfaces, filled with loud noisy people of all sizes and shapes; or even places polluted, foul, and rank with the discarded, the misused, the abused — He’s there, waiting for us to beckon to Him, waiting for us to cry out to Him maybe, that Now is the time we need to draw near to Him.

Our first steps toward Him may be shaky and feeble, but as with any new endeavor, practice helps us remember Him more and more often. We will soon learn to call upon and recall those ways and places where we discovered Him earlier. Deep in our hearts we remember the warm blessing of His love as He showered it upon us. We remember (or maybe realize for the first time) that He was with us no matter where we were or what we were doing. We remember over and over again, if we are searching for Him, that He is constantly sending us messages – through the words of people we encounter, the material we read, the sites and sounds that draw our attention. He’s there loving us, waiting to participate in close relationship with us every minute throughout our day.

How did I deserve such goodness, I wonder?

That’s easy. I didn’t. I don’t.

He is simply there for me – for each of us – waiting to bless us, waiting to take each part of us, no matter how broken, or even fetid it may be, and wash it clean. With His blood He prepares and purifies us to be His, so that we may become a blessing to share with others.

‘In the midst of the thicket,’ we’ve not necessarily lost our way. Let our friends reassure us.

These are the two take-aways for me from In gratitude to friends, Mags Blackie, most recent post. This message is particularly comforting to me just now. My interior life, this blog are being sorely challenged just now and for the foreseeable future, as life has seemed to intervene with priorities that can’t be set aside.

I’ll write about what’s going on at some point. But, as with Mags, I’m processing now. I’m having to try harder than usual, it seems, to keep God uppermost in my thoughts and prayers, to remember to practice His presence, to even take time to sit briefly and bask in the warmth of all the loving posts from all of you.

I miss you and our conversations and will be back as soon as I can to participate more fully in our community. Until then, I give thanks to God for each of you and the work you’re allowing God to accomplish through you. You’re a very special blessing to me.

(Re) forming habits – One day at a time and be gentle with yourself

Learning to feel God’s presence, I think, is similar to learning to form (or reform) any new habit. You do it over and over until it becomes second nature.

When you forget, you acknowledge your forgetfulness, maybe you think about how to avoid messing up in the future, and you move on.

Forget the on-going self-recrimination. The error was in the past. Your acknowledgment of the error (and your request for forgiveness?) were both in the past, too. So should be your concern. Tami at Lessons by Heart talks about her view of this here.

Practice, Practice, Practice

After a while (as my musician-husband always reminds me – practice will make permanent, if not always exactly perfect), God’s presence with you, His grace and continual blessings –maybe even His voice — will be clearer and felt more fully, substantiating each time the validity of your practice.

In his first conversation with Fr. Joseph de Beaufort, Brother Lawrence put it this way. He said:

That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.

And from his first letter he described that:

…by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of GOD is rendered as it were natural to us.

One day, one baby-step at a time.

Mags Blackie, author of Rooted in Love, in her recent post ‘Start With Today‘ offers this advice on forming or reforming habits:

Making changes in our habitual patterns can seem like an insurmountable hurdle…

I have found that when I am in such a bind that the best way to approach it is to forget about the future. I simply make a choice for today. Today I will exercise; or today I will pray; or today I will forgo alcohol; or today I will eat more fruit and veg.

My additional suggestion: Be gentle with yourself

I have found that being gentle with my own expectations of myself is important, especially when I’m trying to embark on some new project.

There’s always the possibility that I’m just being lazy, unfocused and procrastinating. But more often than not (for me, anyway) what can seem like self-made obstacles, forgetfulness, or procrastination (not unlike that described here by Angie over at Family Answers Fast), about my to-do list can obscure an underlying, nagging sense of ‘not-readyness.’

For me, procrastination is almost always a signal that God isn’t fully on board with my plan. In these situations, He most often has another plan waiting for me just around the bend that is more perfect than any I might have conjured up.

My suggestion: One day at a time and be gentle with yourself.

Practicing His Presence

So what does all this have to do with practicing God’s presence?

Just this: When we’ve begun to find a certain ease with experiencing God’s presence with us, procrastination begins to seem less like avoidance or laziness on our part and more like spending time in a holy waiting room, as we assure ourselves that we haven’t gotten out ahead of His light.

He might begin by giving us a holy desire – one so compelling that it can’t be ignored – and we find we are literally catapulted out of whatever stuck-state we’ve been in. We might find ourselves wanting to work through the night or to bound out of bed each morning just to welcome a new day.

When we experience His presence as we go about our daily errands and responsibilities, we will begin to hear His voice, sense His nudges and direction, feel more clarity that we are following His way…all with the happy outcome that our time ends up being spent more productively.

It might even seem that He expands the amount of time we have available for our work.

By feeling God’s presence, we allow His love to sooth our fears of unworthiness and replace them with confidence in how to move forward.

In short, if we allow Him, He will give us the all the tools and energy and time and enthusiasm we need in order to achieve the projects or create the new habits He has planned for us.

One step at a time in His perfect time, He’ll show us an easy, direct route to His plan for us.

Doing all things with God, Doing all things for God

Brother Lawrence is a gift from God (drawing from Wikipedia)Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen

He name is reasonably familiar – to people who know it. But, for many Brother Lawrence is an obscure figure.

Not much is known about him. Still, what we do know is of such value to faith seekers that there’s a part of me that wants to dedicate this whole blog to him and his teachings.

Figuring out how to honor his teachings will be left for another day. Today, I want simply to introduce him to you and reflect on what is, in my mind, his overarching lesson.

Born Nicholas Herman

Born in 1611 as Nicholas Herman in the northeastern corner of France’s Lorraine region, Brother Lawrence grew up in poverty during the height of the Protestant Reformation, just ahead of Europe’s devastating Thirty Year’s War, which was spurred by the religious and political tensions of the time.

This description from Wikipedia provides a good quick impression of Brother Lawrence:

“Despite his lowly position in life and the priory, his character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him. The wisdom he passed on to them, in conversations and in letters, would later become the basis for the book, The Practice of the Presence of God. Father Joseph de Beaufort, later vicar general to the Archbishop of Paris, compiled this work after Brother Lawrence died. It became popular among Catholics and Protestants alike…”

I first heard about Brother Lawrence nearly 30 years ago in a sermon given by a minister in the Unity Church of Christ. He told the story of Brother Lawrence’s time working in the lowly tedium of a priory kitchen.

Haven’t we all experienced as tedium, tasks like fixing meals, cleaning dishes, running errands, washing laundry. They can all seem so trivial. Something to be ‘gotten through.’ Why on earth, we might wonder, would we consider them worthy of God’s time or attention?

All things with God, all things for God

And yet, for Brother Lawrence all tasks, even the most menial stoop to pick up a piece of straw from the ground, offered an occasion to serve God.

Doing everything throughout the day – household chores, business responsibilities, relationship tending – for the love of God was Brother Lawrence’s singular objective in life.

Father de Beaufort describes how Brother Lawrence approached his work in their second “conversation: ”

“in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of GOD, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy, during the fifteen years that he had been employed there…”

And in their fourth conversation:

“…the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.”

He goes on to quote Brother Lawrence:

“The time of business,” said [Brother Lawrence], “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”

Some time after I heard about Brother Lawrence, I finally acted to buy a copy of The Practice of the Presence. It quietly sat on my bookshelf for years gathering dust and eventually became part of the great purge that I discuss here.

It wasn’t until recently, when I was again reminded of him and the attitude he brought to his life, that my heart was finally fully captured by his lessons. (Procrastination? Or God’s grace in the fullness of His time?)

How simple is too simple?

These practices – his practices – are so simple that they are easily shunted aside, overlooked, disregarded as too simple, possibly, or too trivial to be effective. And so, we go about our day over-complicating our search for God.

God’s not just there with us when we pray and call upon Him. He’s with us each minute waiting for us to acknowledge Him and invite Him into our experience.

He’s here right now, as I write this text. He’ll be with me in a minute or two when I get up to make another cup of tea. He was with me earlier when I put in a load of laundry.

When I keep my mind trained on His presence with me as I perform all of my tasks throughout the day, I immediately feel the joy that Brother Lawrence describes, knowing that God — my partner in all things — is with me waiting for me to notice His presence, to experience His loving embrace.

Fr. James Martin SJ, in his excellent book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, discusses the Jesuit form of prayer in which one imagines being part of the stories in the Bible.

Imagining God sitting next to me as I write, or in the car as I run errands, allows me to feel His presence. And once felt, to be washed clean in the glow of His light, able to bring a more loving heart and a more receptive spirit as I go about my day.

Christmas Letters to my Lord-Part II

Where were You, Father, in this annual Christmas celebration? I ask this knowing You haven’t gone anywhere, but knowing also that keeping pace with all my various deadlines (how apropos is this word in this context?) made feeling Your presence a challenge. Amongst all the merriment and the bounty of this season, where were You, Lord?

Did I ever take the time, make the effort to feel Your gifts of joy and truth and love? Did I allow my senses to soar? To be overwhelmed by Your love? I know it is always flowing forth for me, if only I pay attention. Yet, can I be overwhelmed now, after the fact? Can one’s spirit soar in retrospect?

So often we see Your footprints, understand Your lessons, only after our time with You has passed. Where were You this Christmas, Father? How did You bless me in Your passage, for I know with certainty that You have done so. And did I greet You during this time? Was I hospitable? Or did I shut You out, not wanting to take the time to pause from the flurry of my ‘keeping up.’ Was I too lazy to take time for You or one of Yours? Was I too used up from all my other busy-ness?

The Bell Ringer

There was that bell ringer outside the grocery store. Actually multiple bell ringers seemed ever-present this year, offering near-continual opportunities to share joy and goodwill with others of Your children. Only once though did I retrace my steps to the car to get cash for the red bucket. More often, I just covered my guilty laziness with a ‘Merry Christmas,’ passing them with smile.

Saying it like this makes my laziness seems all the more cold-hearted and contemptible.

Can these chances for exchanging goodwill and joy be replaced by later writing a check, even in an amount greater than what might otherwise have been dropped in the bucket? If I get up right this minute to write a check to the Salvation Army, will that gift – free of the joyful human exchange with our local bell ringers, free of the ‘thank you’ that I feel so unworthy to receive – will it be as worthy in Your eyes? Have I accepted thanks as graciously as I’ve offered forgiveness?

You were there all the time

On the other hand, You and I had a couple of good conversations. We chatted as we drove along in the car, running errands. In all the chaos of this season, You blessed me with Your presence along side of me. You allowed the strength of Your spirit to replenish me and prepare me for another day. More often than not, You also freed up parking spots, helped move traffic along, and reminded me to pause and take a beat when an elderly or homeless person was slowing my progress.

You were there for it all, Father, carrying me…or sending others to carry me…when I became too weary to continue on alone. Thank You, Lord.

Knitting our family back together

You were with us as we exchanged Christmas gifts, all possible only from Your bounty. When lessons of forgiveness and bonds of love within our family were reinforced, braided again and again with ever strengthening ties binding us to one another with You as our center, You were there.

Your gaze was there in our son’s eyes as he and I shared lessons from Brother Lawrence. You were in our daughter’s joy-filled voice as she nearly trembled with the excitement of beginning her life anew, ordered by Your will. And Your grace is reflected over and over in our other daughter’s nearly-constant demonstration of Your caring love for everyone in her life – parents, siblings, partner, employees, shop owners, and the poor and homeless in her life.

What a gift You’ve blessed us with to be able to watch our children find their way to You and Your way for their lives.

We CAN soar in retrospect

I am awestruck, nearly breathless as I write this. I realize only now that You’ve answered long-prayed prayers of mine for our family’s faith and unity and it’s finally happening! Our children are finding You and in finding You, they are reconnecting slowly but surely with one another. Thank You, Lord, for this answered prayer. As we grow stronger in our ability to say Yes to You, we cannot but be strengthened in our ability to reach out to our family with the same joy-filled Yes.

Also read Christmas Letters To God-Part I, and in days to come Part III, and Part IV.