2.21.22 Practicing the Presence of God
What is presence anyway? It is the ability to not be concerned about anything past or future, to just be focused on this moment now, on the person(s) I am with and what is happening, and then on the next moment. Presence does not mean talking to someone and thinking about what I need to do next. It’s not about half-listening, and staying focused on myself. It is about being totally focused on who is here with me, what is being said and what is happening right now. And if you’re a follower of Christ, it means having an awareness of the presence of God. We have gone a huge step beyond believing in Jesus Christ and loving God, when we experience the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, in this moment, in our lives. How do we develop that capacity, that awareness of God in all that we do?
There are several practices that are very helpful in developing this ability. After all, we all have the Indwelling Spirit of God within us; we are all made in the image of God[Genesis 1:26,27]. We just need to find a way to focus our attention on the depths of our being, rather than on the surface of our lives where the ego is in charge. These are not once-and-done practices, but over time they will bring us a growing awareness of the presence of God right in the midst of our lives, and these experiences make us seek to be present to the others we encounter as well.
The first practice to develop this skill is lectio divina. This is a practice based on short Bible readings. Choose a short passage in the Bible, say three or four verses. Set aside what you already know about this passage, and read it three times, slowly. And listen for any word or phrase that seems to stand out for you. After you’ve finished reading, focus on the word or phrase that seems to call your attention. Meditate on it, journal about it, seeking an answer to this question: what is the Lord trying to show me today in this passage? As you practice lectio divina you will come to realize that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you directly in these passages, with messages that you need to hear. This a great practice in being present to God.
Secondly, any meditation practice can help us learn to deal with the voices in our minds that were seeded early in our lives. Their sources are our parents, our own guilt at not being able to follow our parents’ directives, and the culture’s ways of dealing with life. These are loud voices, drowning out the “still, small voice”[1 Kings 19:12] of God. I know that when I first tried to meditate, I couldn’t stand listening to all those loud voices that had driven me since I was a child. Just for a few examples: “don’t be late!” “be poised in all situations!” “Keep on task!” and so much more! I would run from the chair where I was meditating. But I eventually realized that if I could become an observer of these thoughts, and not moved or upset by them, then I would be able to relax and actually meditate in peace. So I began to identify who had planted the thoughts in me. My Mom or Dad. My Aunt Grace. The teasing I got as a teenager. The cultural norms. I began to identify them as ‘old friends,’ ideas I had grown up with, that had been driving me for a long, long time. Especially, fear and doubt were my constant companions, but with being an observer of them, I was no longer upset by them. Sometimes I even could just say, “Hello, old friend, you’ve been with me my whole life!”
And so, as this reevaluation of my thoughts went on, I was able to be silent in my meditations, no longer upset by the thoughts that came, and open to the present moment more and more. Now I do Centering Prayer, my favorite form of meditation, one taught by Thomas Keating. In Centering Prayer, you just use a word or short phrase when your attention wanders from the present to bring you back to the center of your being. Mine is, “Oh, Lord.”
As you get more and more relaxed around your own thoughts, you are sitting in the presence of God. And that has a lot of spill-over into your life.
A third practice that helps you in being present is to keep a daily gratitude journal. You are jotting down what blessings came to you from God and when you felt the presence of God. If you do it at the end of each day, it causes you during your day to keep an eye and ear out for those blessings, so that you have something to write about that night. And so you begin to notice God’s presence—in a friend’s suggestion of just the right book for you to read, in the meeting of the minds with another person, in the beauty of this earth, and countless other ways. the journal focuses our attention on seeing God’s presence every day, and so we gain tremendous awareness of all that He is doing in our lives. This also means that we have to be open to seeing it and feeling it. And what a wonder it is to discover that He is always there and always has been!
The practice of the presence of God over time will bring you so much in the way of blessings and direction, and purpose and fulfillment as you not only acknowledge God’s presence, but seek to follow Him in all that you do. Nothing will bring you joy and peace, love and patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—all the fruit of the Spirit[Galatians 5:22-23]. And just a word about self-control—it’s not about squashing who you are, but about our own humility, our place in the kingdom of God.
These practices change our lives, giving us a real sense of God in our lives, today and every day. They bring us gratitude and awe and joy and purpose. Finally we can feel and see the hand of God directing us, supporting us, healing us and so much more. His presence is the new reality in our lives. And we so depend upon it.