One of the most effective tools of Satan is distraction. If we are focused on our frantic lives, our problems, and/or those with whom we interact, we are not attending to God. We not only miss the ways we can enter into the work that God is doing in this world, but we miss that God is present with us each moment. We are not alone! Without this awareness, we live as “functional atheists,” a phrase coined by Parker Palmer. We live as if God is not present and active in this world. We live as if the world rests on our shoulders.
Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Disciplines, addresses this awareness as follows:
- Through his illustrious missionary and literary career, Frank Laubach bore repeated witness to this reality. His diaries and books on prayer are peppered with his many experiments to remain in constant communion with God. On the first day of 1937 he wrote in his diary, “God, I want to give you every minute of this year. I shall try to keep You in mind every moment of my waking hours…I shall try to let You be the speaker and direct every word. I shall try to let You direct my acts. I shall try to learn Your language.” What a marvelous resolve for the new year! Three months later, he noted his progress in learning to practice God’s presence: “Thank Thee…that the habit of constant conversation grows easier each day. I really do believe all though can be conversations with Thee.”
- Think of the number of people who have been encouraged in this way by the simple writings and profound life of Brother Lawrence. How vastly enriched we are that he was finally persuaded, almost against his will, to write down how he had learned The Practice of the Presence of God. His famous words still throb with life and joy. “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter 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.” Every thought, every decision, every action stemmed from the divine Root. A simple kitchen monk, who meekly referred to himself as the “lord of all pots and pans,” founds it to be possible. We can too!
But we fool ourselves if we think that such a sacramental way of living is automatic. This kind of living communion does not just fall on our heads. We must desire it and seek it out. Like the deer that pants for the flowing stream, so we thirst for the living Spring. We must order our lives in particular ways. We must take up a consciously chosen course of action that will draw us more deeply into perpetual communion with the Father.
I have discovered one delightful means to this end to be prayer experiments that open us to God’s presence every waking moment. The idea is extraordinarily simple. Seek to discover as many ways as possible to keep God constantly in mind. “There is nothing new in that,” you may say. “That practice is very ancient and very orthodox.” Exactly! This desire to practice the presence of God is the secret of all the saints.
There are two principles in Foster’s writing that I would like to accent. First, it is imperative that we are intentional about our relationship with God. Just as any relationship, we cannot draw closer to God without spending time with God. In the frantic pace of our culture, this involves scheduling the time as any other appointment. Eugene Peterson encouraged ministers to schedule a daily meeting with God both for our benefit and to help others take it more seriously. Unfortunately, praying can be viewed as optional and can be easily interrupted.
For a time, I believed that praying throughout the day was a sufficient way to spend time with God each day. I would converse with God as I went about my business. This is a good practice, but what I came to realize was that although I was talking to God, I was not listening. I was not allowing myself the space to settle in and be with God. This only happens with a certain amount of time. With this realization, I returned to my morning practice of a half hour for centering prayer and journaling. The space allows for a different quality in the time with God. It centers me before I begin my day. I begin my work with a sense of communion with God.
In addition, I pause for a few minutes after lunch. This practice began after talking with a wise friend about my busy schedule. I asked her to look at my calendar and help me determine what to eliminate. Her response was not what I was seeking but was much richer. She said, “Jackie, you are a busy person and that is how God put you together. Why not invite Sabbath into your busyness?” That ten minutes after lunch reminds me of who I am and whose I am in the midst of the rush of the day. It is akin to the monastic practice of praying the hours. A practice of stopping at various points throughout the day to pray.
I recently shared this practice with the National Urban Ministry Conference (http://
The second principle I want to draw from Foster is that everything can be prayer. I participated in a certificate program on Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. One aspect of this training was that we took turns leading our groups in a contemplative prayer form. The variety was wonderful and ranged from walking in nature while we read the days of creation to helping the kitchen staff of the retreat center with filling the salt and pepper shakers on the tables. What we learned from each other is that anything we do can be prayer as we allow it to focus our attention on God. Thus, as I’m teaching a class or sitting with a client, I can inwardly offer those individuals into God’s keeping. As I fold the laundry, I can pray for each person in my family as I fold their item of clothing. Everything I do can be a practice in the presence of God.
There is no way we can remove the distraction from our life, but we can lessen it as we increase our awareness of God’s presence. It takes intention, yet as Foster tells us, the prayer experiments can be delightful!
Grace and peace to you,