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Prayer and Practicing the Presence of God

Lynne Baab • Tuesday July 4 2023

Prayer and Practicing the Presence of God

“We can ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”
—C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

I read the beautiful little book, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, when I was in my twenties. In my memory, the book is about trying to stay aware of God’s presence in everyday life as described by C. S. Lewis above. I wanted to write a blog post about the difference — if there is one — between being aware of God’s presence and actually turning to God in prayer. In Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s wonderful book on spiritual disciplines, practicing the presence of God is a specific spiritual practice, so I looked at her three pages on this practice. She quotes Brother Lawrence:

“I make it my business to rest in His [Christ’s] holy presence which I keep myself in by a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God. This often causes in me joy and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.”

It sounds like for Brother Lawrence, the sequence of events goes like this: he initiates “a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God” that leads to his awareness of God’s presence with him. I often expect the opposite sequence. I look around to see God’s blessings in everyday life or God’s beauty in nature, expecting that they will call me to prayer. And they do.

Calhoun writes, “Practicing the presence is an invitation to see and experience every moment as a gift of God. It is to live alive to union with the Trinity.” [1] She argues that the specific actions related to this practice include:

  • seeking to see others through the eyes of God
  • stopping throughout the day to listen to God
  • carrying or placing symbols in your office and home that remind you of God’s presence
  • using breath prayer

I find it so encouraging to note that Brother Lawrence’s book was first published in 1692 in French. Across centuries and across cultures, this idea of trying to grow in awareness of God’s presence has been relevant for Christians. Many, many Christians have cultivated habits that help us be aware that the world is crowded with God. I encourage you to ponder which practices and habits help you experience that Jesus is walking with you.

I also encourage you to ponder the connections between prayer and this sense of God’s presence. Do you pray first, and then God seems more present? Do you look for God’s presence, and then feel motivated to pray? Surely both are valuable and important patterns. I wonder which one comes more naturally for you.

I also wonder which person of the Trinity you feel connected to when you experience God’s presence. God’s fatherly or motherly enfolding love? Jesus’s companionship alongside us, our brother and friend? The Holy Spirit inside us, our guide, comforter, and source of power? You might want to pray about how to deepen your awareness of each person of the Trinity.

Calhoun has a long list of the fruits of practicing the presence of God. I find this list both encouraging and challenging. I long to experience all of these in my life more and more:

  • keeping company with Jesus all day long
  • living a new way of being by letting go of your need to manipulate, compete, and control
  • living as though the present moment has no competition
  • receiving each moment as sacred
  • abiding in Christ so that you see him in those who drain, irritate, and anger
  • seeing yourself through God’s eyes rather than the eyes of others
  • finding Christ as your joy, sorrow, emptiness, and fullness
  • remaining open and teachable all moments
  • growing in awareness of your constant need for God

God who walks with us, sometimes incognito and sometimes so powerfully and clearly, we long for more of your presence. Help us nurture habits and practices that enable us to perceive you crowding this world we live in. We also long for the fruits of your presence. Open our ears and eyes to your Triune presence, and bring us the blessings of being with you. Help us to pray in order to feel near to you, and help us, when we feel near to you, to turn to you in prayer.

(This is the eighth post in a series on spiritual practices and prayer. If you’d like to learn more about spiritual practices and see a list of all the posts in the series, the first post of the series is here. Next week: Prayer and pilgrimage. Illustration by Dave Baab: New Plymouth, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

If you’d like to grow in your ability to pray about friendships, I recommend my latest book, Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer Guide. This book will also help you grow in praying about your listening skills and your ability to empathize. The book contains 29 beautiful watercolors by Dave Baab, and I am thrilled with how well they printed up in the paperback version of the book. A wonderful gift and a book that will enhance your prayers.

Here’s a related post, “What I learned about the incarnation from Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere,” written when I lived in New Zealand. For my readers in the Northern Hemisphere, some of the suggestions will work right now at the height of summer.

Two posts about breath prayer, a form of prayer recommended by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun as a way to practice the presence of God:

[1] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s section on practicing the presence in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook (InterVarsity Press, 2015 edition) is pages 71-73.

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