The following post is the fifth in a series that is excerpted from my upcoming book Return to Our Senses, which will be available in mid November.
I love Africa and the vibrant fun loving hospitality of my African friends. When I worked in Africa I was intrigued with how prayer wove every part of village life. Everything Africans did had a spiritual dimension to it. Planting the crops, drawing water from the river, even interacting with family and friends were activities that stimulated a prayerful interaction with God.
When I returned to America, I went hunting for this kind of spirituality. Everyone I spoke to referred me to Brother Lawrence’s classic book Practicing the Presence of God. How sad I thought that the only book everyone thinks of that talks about how to enter into the presence of God in the ordinary mundane acts of life is 400 years old. Even sadder is that even though millions have read this little book over the centuries, its truths seem to have had little effect on our faith and our prayer life. Brother Lawrence writes: “I honestly cannot understand how people who claim to love the Lord can be content without the practice of His presence. My preference is to retire with Him to the deepest part of my soul as often as possible. When I am with Him there nothing frightens me, but the slightest diversion away from Him is painful to me.”
How can we be content without the continual practice of the presence of God? The fact that Brother Lawrence could calmly and quietly worship God in the midst of the clatter and the chaos of the kitchen is truly amazing. Noise distracts and exhausts me. I cannot work with the TV blaring or music playing. However as he explains, we can make our hearts personal chapels where we can enter any time to talk to God privately. These conversations can be loving and gentle, and anyone can have them. I hungered for this type of experience that depended not on a quiet place but on a quiet attitude.
Recently I have come across a number of more contemporary books that address prayer and spirituality in this way. Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World was a particularly delightful find. In the introduction to her book she talks about people who call themselves spiritual but not religious: They know there is more to life than what meets the eye. They have drawn close to this “More” in nature, in love, in art, in grief. They would be happy for someone to teach them how to spend more time in the presence of this deeper reality, but when they visit the places where such knowledge is supposed to be found, they often find the rituals hollow and the language antique.
I think all of us hunger for more. We have caught glimpses of the great God of the universe as we played with kids and comforted friends, as we worked in the garden and walked around the lake. Part of us has awakened to God’s breath soaking into our hearts. We know God has cleansed and forgiven us and invited us back into the garden and something has stirred within us.
Unfortunately like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, we find it hard to believe God loves us enough to walk and talk with us. We hide behind hurried lives, self centered ambitions and our own lonely realities, hoping that we can escape the presence of the One who is love. In church too we hide behind the rituals of prayer, song and liturgy, not knowing how to turn them into relationships of love. That continual awareness of the presence of God that Brother Lawrence experienced eludes us.
What difference would it have made to human history if instead of hiding Adam and Eve had come out into God’s loving presence, thrown themselves on the mercy of God, repented and found forgiveness for their actions? What difference would it make to all our lives if we returned to our senses and threw ourselves on the mercy of the One whose loving breath gives us life and whose loving presence fills our world? What difference would it make if we spent more time soaking in the love of God, consciously seeking to center everything we are and do on the One who still aches to walk and talk and communion with us in loving intimate companionship.
This post is excepted from my new book Return to Our Senses which is now available through Mustard Seed Associates at a pre-publication discounted price of $15.