Practicing the Presence 3-24-07
I’m trying to remind myself these days to “practice the presence of God.” Seems to me that everything – everything – depends on this. Our “life” is nothing but a series of “nows,” so the quality of our relationship with God – which is to say, the quality of our life – is determined by the state of our mind and heart this very moment…. and now, this very moment.
Brother Lawrence once said, …”we must give ourselves totally to God in both temporal and spiritual affairs. Our only happiness should come from doing God’s will, whether it brings us some pain or great pleasure”…
Lets think about this.
While the animals we are entrusted to care for (Gen. 1:26-28) are content with merely biological life, God created us humans with a longing for more. He placed in us a desperate need to experience fullness of LIFE in relation to him. This experience of abundant LIFE includes a permanent sense of unconditional individual and communal worth, profound and eternal meaning and unthreatened security. When we experience this LIFE, we have abiding joy and peace. When we don’t, we feel empty, directionless and insecure.
Only our Creator can give us this LIFE, which is why he created us with this non-negotiable need in the first place. Its a sort of internal “homing device” that is intended to continually drive us to him. He wants us to depend exclusively on him for our sense of worth, meaning and security, and he wants us to reflect this LIFE in our worship (our relationship with him), our individuality (our relationship to ourselves), our community (our relationship with others) and our dominion (our relationship with the animals and the earth). To the extent that we receive and reflect LIFE in this way, God’s dominion is manifested “on earth as it is in heaven.”
We “fall” when, instead of freely receiving LIFE from God we seek to acquire LIFE on our own. This is what the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden is all about (Gen. 3). When we do this, our homing device for God gets directed toward other things, with the result that we make them gods. Instead of manifesting LIFE we freely receive from God, we use people, things and achievements to try to get LIFE. Having rejected God’s loving dominion, we set about trying to establish, protect and expand a dominion of our own. But while God’s dominion can only be carried out as an expression of fullness of LIFE, our petty dominions are driven by a futile attempt to fill a vacuum in our life.
There is no end to the gods we create out of our emptiness and misdirected homing device. People in western culture often strive for worth, meaning and security in money, possessions, sexuality and power. Whatever these people may convince themselves they believe – they may in fact be very religious — these are the things they think about the most and spend most of their time and energy pursuing. And these are the things that make them feel most worthwhile, that give their lives a sense of meaning and that make them feel most secure.
Others futilely try to find some relief from their inner emptiness by convincing themselves they’re physically attractive or admired for their skills and achievements. They bow before a god of beauty, talent and recognition. Some try to feed their hunger for LIFE by convincing themselves they are acceptable to a particular deity by virtue of their correct beliefs or behavior – over and against all who have wrong beliefs and wrong behavior. They worship at the shrine of a god of religion. Still others try to assuage their pervasive sense of emptiness by feeling superior to others by virtue of their family name, their ethnic heritage or their national identity. These chase after the god of tribalism.
The list could go on, but the point has been made. Whatever we try to derive our ultimate sense of worth, meaning and security from is our god – regardless of what we intellectually believe.
But the gods are never satisfied. However successful we might be by the world’s standards at acquiring particular gods, we always on some level, sooner or later, long for more. We long for real LIFE. No matter how much wealth we collect, how many toys we acquire, how much fame we achieve, how much pleasure we experience or how much authority we garner, it’s never enough. All the admiration we might receive, and all the right beliefs we might embrace, all the rituals we might engage in, and all the claims to ethnic or nationalistic superiority we make, leave us empty.
We long for more. It may be manifested as a pervasive anxiety or anger. It may be experienced as a gnawing sense of alienation, depression or frustration. Or it may take the form of a deep emptiness, a relentless boredom, an on-going restlessness or profound apathy towards life. Many try to push the ache in the soul from their consciousness by pouring themselves into their work or by distracting themselves with an assortment of amusements. Others try to medicate the primordial pain with alcohol, drugs or sexual addictions. But nothing works – at least not permanently. The longing will not go away.
And yet, so long as we buy the lie that LIFE can be found outside of God, we think the problem is that we simply don’t have enough. If only we had more of our god, we think, or perhaps if only we had a different god, we’d find relief from our pain, we’d feel full, alive, meaningful and secure. But it’s all a grand illusion.
We are on the precipice of LIFE when we begin to wake up to this grand illusion. When we realize and accept the utter futility of god-chasing, we are at the door of the Kingdom. When we come to understand that the longing in our heart can never be satisfied by anything the world has to offer, we are in a position where we can, if we choose, give up our idolatrous striving and return to God as the source of LIFE.
This is not merely a matter of knowing intellectually that our attempts to acquire worth, meaning and significance are idolatrous and unsatisfying. For it’s entirely possible to believe the world is empty and yet hold out a modicum of hope in finding LIFE in the world within one’s heart. Rather, the Kingdom is near only when all hope is lost in the core of our being. The Kingdom is at hand only when we utterly despair of ever finding LIFE on our own. We are at the door of the Kingdom only when we have become disgusted enough with life’s trivial pursuits and futile endeavors that we opt out of them altogether. The Kingdom is at hand not when we cerebrally believe the world has nothing to offer us, but when we chose to act on this belief and actually give up on the world, abandoning all attempts to acquire worth, meaning and significance for ourselves.
This is a choice about life, and therefore can only be made in the now – for actual life is always in the now. The relevant question is not; “Did you make a choice to give up on finding LIFE in the world yesterday?” The only relevant question is; Are you free from the futile attempt to acquire LIFE from the world now?”
Are you getting your life, worth, security and significance from your Creator this moment?
Practice his presence and be blessed.