A long time ago, there lived a man named Nicolas Herman. He was a very poor man and had joined the army so that he’d have food and a place to sleep. One day he had a spiritual experience that would change his life forever, and ours too, for he is widely known for his intimate relationship with God and for the little book that was compiled after his death called, “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
Nicolas joined the Carmelite order and became Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He was assigned to the kitchen where he cooked and washed dishes all day long. For Brother Lawrence, all the routine tasks of everyday life could be a way of experiencing God’s love. “Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do,” he said. “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
Invitation to the Practice
All of us have the Presence of God within us and all of us can experience this divine Presence throughout our days and nights. I invite you to join me in the simplicity and joy of knowing God within you intimately. All that is required is the willingness to practice an inward, instead of outward, focus of your attention, and an inner listening and attunement to the Presence of Spirit instead of ego.
Focus Inward; The Divine Presence is Within You
In the gospel of Luke 17: 21, we read, “Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” For many of us – perhaps most of us – God is an external Presence; not a Presence within us; our presence. And yet, this acceptance is what is required for us to experience God’s love right where we are – within our being. God is everywhere, but God can only be known within ourselves. We begin by focusing our attention within our heart. This takes practice! For most of us the focus of our attention is on the thoughts that flow through our minds all the time. To practice the Presence, we instead go within ourselves and listen and feel for God’s love. We can do this wherever we are…driving, buying groceries, loading the dishwasher, working at the computer, having lunch with co-workers. We can even ask God to help us keep our attention on Him within us! We strive to bring the Presence of God within us into everything we do, so that we may feel God as a living reality and experience His reassurance and comfort and peace.
Discerning God’s Presence from the Voice of the Ego
As we listen within ourselves, soon we’ll begin to discern God’s Presence from the ego. To help with this discernment, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed a series of exercises in the 1500’s that help us to know which is which; “the good spirit” or “the bad spirit.” They are still relevant today:
“For anyone who is genuinely seeking to do what is right,the Good Spirit will bring enthusiasm, life, strength, tears, encouragement, views of a way ahead, peace and consolation. The Bad Spirit will bring endless problems, difficulties, doubts, desolation and confusion.”
Sound familiar? All of us have experienced both. The more we practice the Presence of God within us with our inward attention and love, the more skillful we become. The benefits of “praying without ceasing” are great. We will be filled with a new love for God and will want to do everything out of love for God. We will know that God is always with us, guiding us, loving us, protecting us, and taking form as whatever Grace is needed. Most important of all, we will directly experience God’s Presence and will know that we are no longer just a “me;” we have become a partnership, a “we.”
Or in the words of Psalm 139: 7-10:
“Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.”