Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April 15th

I've been reading The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. I wanted to read this book a few years ago, but for some reason, I never bought it, so while I was familiar with it in a general way, it's only now that I'm reading his story, letters and maxims.

This book is so excellent that I must share several quotes that especially leaped out at me. This is from a letter written about Brother Lawrence, describing his experience of faith and God's presence:

“God," saith he (Brother Laurence), "has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take up with a little sensible devotion, which passes in a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God and stop the current of His graces. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully; there they flow like a torrent which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.”

-The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, Fourth Letter

Indeed. I have been in both places- that is, having a lethargic, "sensible" devotion and having a "lively" faith- and I have experienced just what he is describing here.

In Brother Lawrence's Spiritual Maxims, he lays out four benefits of the presence of God- the italics I did not add, they are in the original text:

1. The first benefit which the soul receives from the Presence of God is that faith grows more alive and active in all the events of life, particularly when we feel our need, since it obtains for us the succor of His grace when we are tempted, and in every time of trial. Accustomed by this practice to take faith as guide, the soul, by a simple remembrance, sees and feels God present, and calls upon Him freely and with assurance of response, receiving the supply of all its needs, By faith, it would seem, the soul draws very near to the state of the Blessed- the higher it advances, the more living does faith grow, until at last so piercing does the eye of faith become, that the soul can almost say- faith is swallowed up in sight, I see and I experience.

2. The practice of the Presence of God strengthens us in hope. Our hope grows in proportion as our knowledge; and in measure as our faith by this holy practice penetrates into the hidden mysteries of God, in like measure it finds in Him a beauty beyond compare, surpassing infinitely that of earth, as also that of the most holy souls and angels. Our hope grows and waxes ever stronger, sustained and enheartened by the fullness of the bliss, which it aspires to and even already tastes in part.

3. Hope breathes into the will a distrust of things seen, and sets it aflame with the consuming fire of Divine love; for God's love is in very truth a consuming fire, burning to ashes all that is contrary to His will: the soul thus kindled cannot live save in the Presence of God, and this Presence works within the heart a consecrated zeal, a holy ardor, a violent passion to see this God known and loved, and served and worshiped by all His creatures.

4. By the practice of the Presence of God, by steadfast gaze on Him, the soul comes to a knowledge of God, full and deep, to an Unclouded Vision: all its life is passed in unceasing acts of love and worship, of contrition and of simple trust, of praise and prayer, and service; at times indeed life seems to be but one long, unbroken practice of His Divine Presence.

-The Spiritual Maxims of Brother Lawrence, Of the Benefits of the Presence of God

I wonder why Jesus didn't present me with this book early on, that first year? At the time, I knew only enough of Brother Lawrence to know that I was not the only one who felt the presence of God so strongly that at times I felt like dancing in the kitchen.

If I had read the book, I would have known immediately what Jesus wanted from me, where He was leading me. But perhaps He wanted to teach me this Himself. I often think of this verse:

“But you must not be called ‘·Teacher [Rabbi],’ because you have only one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters together."
-Matthew 23:8, Expanded

I was talking to Jesus once, when I was with Him in the inner room- I was talking to Him about all the things I was learning from others and how valuable that was and how grateful I was for the way their shared their journey and understanding of God, and how that community provided balance and perspective.

"But," I said to Jesus, remembering this verse, "I call no one on earth teacher, for I have one teacher and He is You."

This engendered so much love and delight in Jesus that it was as though it blew through Him like a wind- Jesus bent forward as though from the force of this love which was sweeping through Him, and put His face in His hands. I was amazed by it; I was not expecting anything like that in response.

Since then, I have thought and thought about it, wondering why that statement moved Jesus so deeply. And I wonder now, if it was because so few ever put that kind of trust in Jesus. Perhaps it's connected in some way to this verse:

 I have pursued you, coming here in My Father’s name, and you have turned Me away. If someone else were to approach you with a different set of credentials, you would welcome him. That’s why it is hard to see how true faith is even possible for you: you are consumed by the approval of other men, longing to look good in their eyes; and yet you disregard the approval of the one true God.

-John 5:43-44, Voice

In any case, at that time that I first came across The Practice of the Presence of God, Jesus was still patiently untangling me from entrenched self condemnation and I was unable to do the actual practice of the Presence of God, as Brother Lawrence understood it- to offer everything one did for love of God, and in His immediate presence by faith.

At the time, when I considered doing that, I saw only an endless succession of failures, of not living up- how could anything that I did be enough of a gesture of love to God? I felt I had nothing worth offering Jesus- only weakness and failure and inconsistencies.

Also, when I considered doing it, I felt immediately my ingrained legalism uncurl and stretch out, ready to drive me into ceaseless acts of self perfection in order to earn the presence of God, in order to make myself, by these acts of perfection, worthy of  the presence of God.

So I stopped thinking about it, and went back to learning how to simply rest in the love of Jesus- which was difficult enough to learn and took years. I'm still learning it.

However, now I can begin to grasp what Brother Lawrence is talking about. It is not about earning the presence of God- it is about a simple, unfettered faith that God is immediately, intimately present and that everything one does is a simple, humble gesture of authentic love in return.

It's sort of like when children lovingly offer their parents a messy craft project they made- what parent is going to reject that gift because it is messy or lumpy? In the same way, I think of the things that I am doing for Jesus out of love. They are not important things, they are not perfectly done, but I do them as a gesture of love for Him.

I don't do this to earn His love, but because I already have it.

I've been doing this the last few days and I'm still trying to figure out how it works. I think it works only if one is very, very humble and as I still growing in that area, I only glimpse how this works from time to time. Only the humble could say, I love You, Jesus and I am making this bed as a gesture of love for You. This is what I am offering You out of love- the washing of the dishes.

Every once in a while, I understand it and it is beautiful. Other times I can't see it, but I do it out of faith anyway- because in that way, I am still practicing faith.

So, nothing is wasted! If I can't grasp it, I do it as a gesture of faith and thank Him for the chance to grow my faith. If I fail, I say merely, thus I am without You, and place myself by faith firmly in Him regardless. If I succeed, I say- this I offer only because of You and for You and through You.