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Posts Tagged ‘Brother Lawrence’

Self Absorbed

It’s a confession. Self-absorbed says it all. Not so much that it’s all about me, just spending way too much time and energy on how “me” is doing. How do I look? How’s my weight? Should I cut my hair? Should I meet a man? How will I support myself? Worries and questions are like a drumbeat within.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? [Matthew 6:25-26] 
My prayer time has been wrapped in the structure of the Lord’s Prayer. It keeps me on track and gives more focus to my time alone. But if it is true, that I am committed to “Your will be done,” then one would think I’d have a freedom. And for the time I sit in my chair and keep my eyes and heart on God, I feel it. But then I have to take a shower and feed the dogs and cats and clean the cat box and get dressed for the day and and and and. Your will be done loses resonance. The old “honey-do” list is a “me gotta do” list. “Martha, Martha, the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.” [Luke 10:38a, NIV] 
I know. I know. But like Yoda says, I do not do.
Practicing the presence of God is a discipline. But I’m pretty sure my self-absorption gets in the way. It is a choice, a conscious one, that must be exercised throughout the day. Can I teach myself to be absorbed with the Presence instead? Can I look for Jesus in the eyes that I meet, look for the Holy Spirit all around me?
Breathe.

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prayer bwPray continually. Are you kidding? Who can do that?

Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good. [I Thessalonians 5:16-21, CEB]

I mean it! Outside of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite “lay brother” (not even a monk because he did not have the necessary education), who does that? It was Brother’s Lawrence’s words, maxims, and prayers that were compiled after his death into the Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. And what does Brother Lawrence “do” most of any day? He was the cook and bottle washer in the monastery, and all the while, he practiced awareness of God and ultimately, prayer. He prayed continually. Yay Larry.

But what about you and me? I can barely manage to remember to pray the hours, that’s one prayer every 4 hours during the day.

So, just to get a little break from this guilt-producing mandate, I googled it. And there might be a reprieve of sorts. One writer suggested that this passage could have more to do with consistency than non-stop talking (although, I have been known to do the latter under certain circumstances). Another writer advanced that the passage could mean a “ready response” to circumstances, so that the first comeback is a prayer instead of a smart remark. And yet another writer proposed that the verse could refer to an awareness of the beauty around us, thereby giving thanks or when tragedy strikes, ask for mercy, etc. Or, perhaps all of these together make for continually?

Or, perhaps, it’s the goal. Is this verse any more difficult (or easier) than this one, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matthew 5:48, NIV]

And for this reason, I pray this prayer willingly. Join me. Daily.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

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Here’s a few questions I find myself pondering: where do I walk? Where do I stand? and Where do I sit? I mean, in my every day life, am I putting myself in harm’s way, despite being unengaged? Am I assuming that my lack of a direct encounter with the “enemy” means I am unaffected by the surround? Does passivity promise protections (forgive the alliteration)? Apparently not.


Psalm 1:1-2

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night. [NIV]

Funny, I had forgotten about the old Watchman Nee (1957) book called Sit, Walk, Stand, which has a slightly different take on these same words with different order and as a result, a different emphasis: sitting as rest in God (finding strength there), to walk in trust and perseverance, and then to stand in faith to end. All valid points.

But I am taking the psalmists interpretation of these words to heart. This first verse is really a series of 3 “do not’s” and the more active “do” is quite simple: meditate on the Word. That’s prayer, that’s consciousness, that’s intentional.

Our pastor tries to give us “action” steps each week and this is mine for myself:

  • Watch where I am walking; look around; examine the stimuli around me; where am I headed and why; use the time well.
  • Stand on solid surfaces on purpose; be centered and grounded; be aware of the temperature and the environment; use the time well.
  • Sit alertly; notice what I am watching (as in television) or listening to (as in radio); where do my eyes wander and am I judging the others “walking” by? Use the time well.

For example, yesterday, I ran several errands throughout the day and while waiting for my daughter to finish her hair and doctor’s appointments, I wasted the time with Sudoku and Words with Friends. Or, in the evening, I watched a show on television I had already seen, but was too lazy to either change the channel or go to bed. My reasoning? I don’t watch TV that much, so I can afford to just “veg.” I’m not saying I can’t do those things, but in most of those cases, I just did them by default. I didn’t choose, I just allowed. Wasting time is OK as long as it’s intentional. But if it’s not, then really, the time is being stolen from me.

And lastly, I considered this idea of “meditating.” I’ve struggled with this idea before. After all, who hasn’t read Brother Lawrence’s Practice the Presence of God? (If you missed it, go to the library.) I was always a little numb after reading it. That’s impossible. I can’t do it. I can’t pray without ceasing. My life is too full.

And so, with all the “I cannnot’s” rolling around in my head, I can excuse any effort whatsoever.

But a couple of years ago, I challenged myself with praying the Hours and although it was difficult, I had some success. And looking back? It made a difference. And now, I’m thinking, maybe just a single verse in a single day, a popular verse, so that I’m not overwhelmed with memorization or some such, just a thrum, a slight little thing to repeat when I am quiet, before I click on the app.

You won’t believe it, but there’s actually a website called, Top Verses: The Bible, Sorted. Perfect. The top, most referenced verse on the web is no surprise, John 3:16; so that’s my verse for today. And when they sort the Psalms, verse 1:1 is near the top, the same verse that challenged me today as I start my next drive through the Word, through Psalms. I’m digging for God again.

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Why are we (including me) still writing and reading about prayer? How much more can be said? What other discoveries do I expect? Christian book stores are full of essays, real life stories, and teachings. Blogs and websites even more so. What does it take to “get it?”

James 5:13-14a, 16b
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them . . . The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

In one of my devotions while praying the hours, I encountered a writing that identified prayer as the most difficult task of a believer. Why is that true? What is it about our understanding of prayer over the ages that makes us disinclined to practice it without a lot of help. Help might come in the form of a prayer book, a rosary, a special “place” (a pew, a designated chair at home, or a particular position); help in prayer may seem to require other people or musical accompaniment.

I think the problem rests with physicalizing a spiritual or non-corporeal process.

I try to master my outer world in order to “make time” and space for prayer when in reality, the mastery is within. The real reason we may be encouraged to speak and sing prayers out loud us that it helps tame the incessant wandering of our minds. We practice corporate prayers in order to focus on a particular set of words and hopefully, join the inner self with the spoken word.

But truthfully, I can read a prayer and plan dinner at the same time. I can sing or pray out loud and review my most recent argument with my husband or children that morning. I can speak the Lord’s prayer and get lost in it much the same as famous singers lose their places singing the National Anthem at football stadiums. I’m not paying attention. My mind is elsewhere. I am not praying. I am going through the motions.

Prayer is about communing with the Holy Spirit. And although it may be easier to communicate within when it’s quiet or when I set aside my regular schedule to meditate or repeat prayers/mantras or execute a plan, the real “work” is in the heart and mind.

In the King James translations of verse 16 in James 5, it is the “fervent” prayer that is effective and powerful. Some people believe fervent to mean emotional or ongoing, long-winded or passionate; some even think of fervent prayer as fiery, vehement, or zealous. I used to think the same way.

Instead, I’m thinking no outward expression of a fervent prayer is going to have any more power or effectiveness than another kind without the interior self in full participation. It is not what I say or how I say it. Just now, I actually found a website blog that states, “Every time we pray, if we do so correctly, God’s mighty power is released . . . ” Is this what it’s come down to? We’re all trying to figure out how to “pray correctly?” That cannot be the solution.

The Holy Spirit is with me whether I am standing, sitting or walking. The Holy Spirit is present in the shower and at the computer. The Holy Spirit hears, sees, comprehends me in a way like no other. Unfortunately, my praxis is shutting out the Spirit from my conscious mind. I tend to relegate the Holy Spirit to role of observer only. That is not how prayer works.

“So too the [Holy] Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness; for we do not know what prayer to offer nor how to offer it worthily as we ought, but the Spirit Himself goes to meet our supplication and pleads in our behalf with unspeakable yearnings and groanings too deep for utterance.” [Romans 8:26, Amplified]

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