How to Grow, Well: 3. Living in the Presence of God



How to Grow, Well: 3. Living in the Presence of God

Sun shining through the trees New Forest National Park. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

ACTIVITY TWO : Living in the Presence of God

I have finally found a place to live
Just like I never could before
And I know I don’t have much to give
But soon I’ll open any door
Everybody knows the secret
Everybody knows the score
I have finally found a place to live
In the presence of the Lord
Eric Clapton, ‘Presence of the Lord’

In 1969 Eric Clapton had just left the band Cream, bought a new house, fallen in love with his future wife, started a new band, and (mistakenly) felt that he had his heroine addiction under control. That moment in his life must have felt like perfection. This was the first song to which he wrote all the lyrics. He wrote much later that he wanted to express his gratitude for all that life had given him, which is a worthy and positive sentiment. But it’s not the same thing as living in the presence of God.

On one level we all live in the presence of God. I believe that God is present in every atom and cell in the universe. That means, in theory, that God is available to us at all times. However, it rarely feels that way, even though in the book of Revelation John looks forward to a time when there will be no church, nor even any sun, because God’s light will shine clearly everywhere: in other words, living in a permanent awareness of God is what God has always intended for us.

This means that religion in general, and religious activities in particular, are not God’s best for us – they are only necessary for as long as we live in this state of awarelessness. I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that I won’t have to go to church forever!

Paul exhorts the Thessalonian church to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1The 5:17), which is something that some Christians through history have taken very seriously indeed, while the rest of us have tended to give up. As T S Eliot puts it, rather more poetically than I: ‘But to apprehend/The point of intersection of the timeless/With time, is an occupation for the saint … For most of us, there …are only hints and guesses.’

But we should not lose heart! The 7th century monk and theologian Maximus the Confessor tells a story of a young monk coming to his master:

And the brother said: “How can the mind pray without ceasing? After all, when we sing or read, when we meet with others and serve, we turn away towards many thoughts and contemplations.” And the Elder responded: “The Divine Scriptures don’t command anything impossible, for the Apostle also sang, read, and served, but nevertheless he prayed unceasingly. Continuous prayer consists in reverently and lovingly keeping your mind attached to God, always hanging on Him with hope, relying on Him in everything, no matter what you do and no matter what happens.

The team at Life Model Works suggest that a vital component of healthy growth is to develop this growing awareness of God in all of life. The call is an ‘Emmanuel Lifestyle’, using the name attributed to Jesus in Matthew 1:23, which means ‘God with us’. Sadly (for me at least), they don’t offer any shortcuts to knowing God. The most important part is to develop the ability to pay attention to more than what is pressing down on our consciousness. This is not magic: it’s a mental discipline that can be learned. What is now called Mindfulness is just the latest version of spiritual practices that have been taught for millennia, practices that train the mind to notice what else is going on within us and around us.

At this point I need to say that not all forms of prayer and spirituality train the mind to pay attention to God. Frankly, some forms work by grabbing our attention, so that we feel God’s presence in the moment. However, when the moment has passed, so has our awareness of God.

I have a chronic illness which causes me both pain and fatigue. As part of my treatment, I have been learning mindfulness exercises. They train me to discipline my focus so I can notice what is going on within and around me, even when the pain in my body is demanding all my attention. Mindfulness is so similar to the traditions of contemplative prayer that I find myself chatting with God while doing my exercises. And this is not a new discovery; my consultant assures me that, ‘Meditation is better than medication,’ when it comes to taking back control of my mental environment.

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About the Author

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

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