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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Falling in Love with God: The Life of Prayer

Someone once said that being in the presence of God was like “living each moment as if all Eternity converged upon it.” How do we live like this? Can we live with our wicks turned up that high without burning out? Yet Eternity is converging upon this very moment. What is happening now – this reflection, our struggles to understand, the reading of this paragraph – will never happen again. Engagement with others and with God takes place at Eternity’s converging point.

Seventeenth-century Carmelite Brother Lawrence speaks of the “practice of the presence of God.” Anglican Pastor Jeremy Taylor talks about “holy living.” Albert Schweitzer called it a “reverence for life.” Douglas Steer speaks about “being present where you are.” Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin calls it the “divine milieu.” How do we wake up to the presence of the kingdom all around and within us?

Recall the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Clearly Jesus’ concern here was the convergence of Eternity in the present moment. Jesus was not criticizing Martha for her effort to be a good hostess, nor did he mean to elevate the contemplative above the active life. Rather, he zeroed in on Martha’s busyness and anxiety, which were causing her to miss what Jean-Pierre de Caussade called “the sacrament of the present moment.”

Oblivious to all the work her workaholic sister had to do, Luke says, “she was sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to what he was saying.” You can feel Martha’s temperature rising as she puttered around preparing food, setting the table, doing “a lot of work” while Mary sat cozy on the floor at Jesus’ feet. Martha finally speaks out in anger about the situation, and implores Jesus to make Mary get up off the floor and help her.

In responding to Martha, Jesus did not put down work. What he criticized instead were those characteristics of busyness and anxiety, so pervasive in our own society, which dampen prayerful attentiveness to the convergence of Eternity upon the moment. Jesus gently admonishes her: “You worry and are upset about a lot of things…” Poor Martha. A glimpse of Eternity slipped past her unnoticed, while Mary’s “laziness,” if we want to call it that, let her partake of the sacrament, allowed her to soak up grace.

How can we live like Mary, with a desire to live every moment attentively and responsively? Our Martha-like compulsive driven-ness and sense of duty keep us with shuttered ears and eyes to the glory of God all around us. How often do we miss the “sacrament of the present moment?”

We begin to live like Mary by living attentively. We begin by practicing the presence of God. And we begin by making our life a life of prayer. None has offered a clearer and simpler solution than the simple monk, Brother Lawrence. The longer I have studied The Practice of the Presence of God, the more convinced I am that this simple and good man just fell head over heels in love with God and let that transfuse and transform everything he was doing. “I turn my little omelet in the pan for the love of God,” he explained. People try all kinds of methods to learn how to love God, but is it not better, he asks, “to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the tasks one’s lot in life demands to show God that love, and to maintain God’s presence within by the communion of our heart with God’s?”

How do we fall in love with God? Is that something only a na├»ve, uneducated person like Brother Lawrence could do? Can we who have benefited from education and who live such full and busy lives love God enough to live each moment as if all Eternity converged upon it? Brother Lawrence thought everyone could do so. His formula was simple: “We must know before we love, and to know God we must often think of God. And when we love God, we shall think of him all the more, for our heart is where our treasure is.

Author Thomas Kelly invites us to be attentive to God’s presence, and then to be prayerful in all that we do. Live in utter openness to God. Quietly, behind the scenes, keep up a silent prayer, “Open Thou my life. Guide my thoughts. Thy will, not mine, be done.” As you chat with friends, pray every moment this internal continuous prayer of submission.  Kelly’s suggestions for this silent prayer: “Be Thou my will,” or “I open all before Thee,” or “My God, my God, my Holy One, my Love.”

To live a life of prayer is to begin the surrender of ourselves to his divine will. Prayer begins when we open the shutters of our heart and send forth the dove of desire for God. Amen.