Monday, February 15, 2010

To Practice the Presence of God

When do you think good intentions run highest, New Year’s Eve or Mardi Gras? Both are licenses to overindulge, in exchange for better behavior at daybreak. Maybe one is the secular version of the other, but both are testaments to man’s wish for something better—and ability to delude himself.

I thought of asking readers what they are giving up and/or doing for Lent (reading plans and the like), but I realized that’s a private matter. I ain’t telling, and you shouldn’t have to either. Instead, let me propose taking a few minutes to meditate on a reading in this morning’s Magnificat.

It’s from that strange 17th-century figure Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, who isn’t even a Blessed, for gosh sakes, but who got to me the first time I read about him two years ago and still gets to me every time I am reminded of his Practice of the Presence of God. This simple discipline puts most of our Lenten plans and promises to shame because it says that sometimes the hardest thing is to remember the simplest thing. So read Brother Lawrence:

The first means to acquire the Presence of God is great purity of life. The second is great fidelity to the practice of this presence and to the fostering of this awareness of God within, which must always be performed gently, humbly, and lovingly, without giving in to disturbance or anxiety. We must take special care that this inner awareness, no matter how brief it may be, precedes our activities, that it accompanies them from time to time, and that we complete all of them in the same way. 

Since much time and effort are required to acquire this practice, we must not get discouraged when we fail, for the habit is only formed with effort, yet once it is formed we will find contentment in everything. It is only right that the heart, the first to beat with life and the part that controls the rest of the body, should be the first and the last to love and adore God, whether by beginning or by completing our spiritual and physical activities, and generally, in all life’s exercises. 

It would be appropriate for beginners to formulate a few words interiorly, such as: “My God, I am completely yours,” or “God of love, I love you with all my heart,” or “Lord, fashion me according to your heart,” or any other words love spontaneously produces. But they must take care that their minds do not wander or return to creatures. The mind must be kept fixed on God alone, so that seeing itself so moved and led by the will, it will be obliged to remain with God. 

This practice of the presence of God, somewhat difficult in the beginning, secretly accomplishes marvelous effects in the soul, draws abundant graces from the Lord, and, when practiced faithfully, imperceptibly leads it to this simple awareness, to this loving view of God present everywhere, which is the holiest, the surest, the easiest, and the most efficacious form of prayer.