Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practice the Presence of God

This essay by Doug Hill appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Hearing yourself think in a world full of distractions is a problem. Hearing what God would have us think is even harder. How can we create some quiet around and within ourselves in case the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something?

One expert on that subject is a humble monk who worked in the kitchen of a Parisian monastery in seventeenth-century Paris. His name was Brother Lawrence, and the account of his method (told to another monk, for Brother Lawrence was illiterate) are collected in a book called The Practice of the Presence of God.

As befits a simple man, Brother Lawrence’s technique was simple: He worked to keep his mind focused on God regardless of what he was doing. He talked to God while he did the dishes and praised God when he cleaned the floor. He worshiped God while he was setting the table for dinner and asked God’s blessing while he cleared it. Over time he got to the point where he was constantly aware of God and constantly in communion with Him. “In the noise and clatter of my kitchen,” he said “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.”

Most of us aren’t as dedicated as Brother Lawrence, but there are easy steps that can move us in his direction. Try taking “minute retreats” whenever a few moments of downtime present themselves during the day. Think of God when you’re stopped at a traffic light, standing in line at the supermarket, or waiting on hold on the telephone. It may be helpful at such moments to say a simple, repetitive prayer. Christians have recited the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) for centuries. A shorter alternative is to repeat “Abba,” the word Jesus used for Father.

The key to practicing the presence of God is directed attention. The more we focus our thoughts on God, the better we will hear Him.

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