Practicing Presence

June 12: Practice = a worn keyboard. #hyphotoaday
June 12: Practice = a worn keyboard. #hyphotoaday

Summer is a tricky season for me. It’s my favorite season because it’s warm and often involves water and sunscreen. In Pittsburgh I don’t have as much access to water as I would like, but I’m working on that, little by little.

It’s tricky because each summer day can be vastly different from other days. I don’t teach during the summer, which is a blessing because I can work on writing my book, which is another incredible blessing. It also often means that I have the illusion of being in charge of what happens each day. I say illusion because there are always surprises, even when they’re planned: coffee dates or errands, power outages, other sudden responsibilities. Even the writing process itself is unpredictable–sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t. I have a hard time not getting mad at myself when the writing doesn’t flow.

My husband’s days are always unpredictable. He shows up at the game store, opens the door, and sometimes people come and sometimes people don’t come. He’s only kind of in charge of what his day looks like. He’s really just in charge of showing up.

One of my grad school professors once used this very analogy for writing. He encouraged establishing a practice of writing every day–just like a store owner. “You do the job of showing up,” he said. “Sometimes the customers–the writing–comes. Sometimes it doesn’t.” The important thing is to try.

Lately, he has been reading Practicing the Presence of People by Mike Mason. It’s a book that riffs on the themes of Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. Both books speak to us a lot about the importance of being fully present to what God is doing here and now–through people or not through people. I just read this excerpt from Chapter 20 that is helping me today:

Each day as I come before God I ask not, “What should be happening in my life?” but rather, “What is happening?” I say, “Lord, what are You up to right now?” What is Your gift for me today?” While it’s important to rehearse all the wonderful ways that God has met me in the past, the question is, Where am I with God right now? Each day, each moment, is a field of fresh fallen snow unbroken by any footstep. In this present moment, even as I wash these dishes, chat with this neighbor, or read this book–am I in God’s presence? What good is it to have been in God’s presence this morning if I am not right now? Eternal life is lived in the present. What is keeping me right now from being fully present to myself, to my friend, and to my God? 

When the Lord revealed His name as I AM, He gave us the most powerful weapon against every form of deception. This name banishes all fear, since fear has to do with what has happened in the past or what may happen in the future. This name is the instrument of forgiveness, for it wipes clean the criminal record of even the worst offender. This name is the key that ushers God into any and every circumstance no matter how bleak. This name creates miracles, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Do we use this name? When we call upon God, do we bemoan His absence, or do we practice His presence, His hereness and nowness? 

Love is like oxygen. The breath of it I had just a moment ago will do me no good if I do not take another breath soon. To stay alive I must keep breathing. In both Greek and Hebrew the word for breath is the same as the word for spirit. But there is one vital difference between physical and spiritual breathing, for while the former is governed by an autonomic system, the latter is governed by the will. Spiritually each breath is different from the last, and for this reason spiritual growth cannot happen automatically but only through conscious choice. This means that the spiritual life by its very nature is experimental, a matter of trial and error. 

Experimentation is what keeps spirituality in the here and now. It’s what keeps relationships fresh and vital. Getting to know someone, whether it is God or a human being, cannot happen without trial and error. Fear of error is a sure recipe for stagnation. If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you always get. Why not try something different? Experimentation brings relationships into the present moment where they must be in order to change and grow. (125-126)

I love what Mason is implying here about the breath being the linking catalyst between our minds and the hereness and the nowness of God. That’s so yogic.

And as I think about experimentation with prayer, I recognize too the importance of yoga to my ability to slow down and listen to what God is doing right now in my life. Just showing up to the yoga mat is a practice. But even if the yoga isn’t on my mat, it’s still my tie to God. Even if the yoga means taking a moment to move my spine in all seven directions in front of my computer and breathing and slowing down and listening.

It’s a nice reminder that even in the unpredictable practice of writing, I can still breathe and embrace the moment–even if the moment feels unproductive. This seriously is making all the difference in my Today.

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