A musician was lost in New York City. Upon finding a traffic cop the musician asked, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The cop said, “Practice, practice, practice!”
Nicholas Herman of Lorraine (1614-1691) was a lay brother at a Paris monastery. Herman was better known as Brother Lawrence and he was the author of an all-time spiritual classic, “The Practice of the Presence of God.” Here’s a quote from the book:
“In continuing the practice of conversing with God throughout each day, and quickly seeking His forgiveness when I fell or strayed, His presence has become as easy and natural to me now as it once was difficult to attain.”
Somewhere along the line in the Western world most of the secular population “fell or strayed” from the practice of the presence of God. Perhaps in the rapidly increasing pace of life this practice seemed impractical, so the responsibility was abdicated to women and men in monasteries.
In 1967 Richard Alpert (1931-Present) traveled to India and learned spiritual practice through the guru Neem Karoli Baba who gave Alpert the name “Ram Dass”, which means “Servant of God”. In 1971 Ram Dass published a book about his journey that includes descriptions of spiritual practices. The book, which quickly became a spiritual classic, is called “Be Here Now.” Here’s a quote from that book. Notice the similarity to the quote from The Practice of the Presence of God.
“Early in the journey you wonder how long the journey will take and whether you will make it in this lifetime. Later you will see that where you are going is HERE and you will arrive NOW...so you stop asking.”
There is a recognition by these spiritual masters that “early in the (spiritual) journey” it is “difficult to attain” presence, that is, being present where God is present; here and now. It takes practice, practice, practice. Interestingly one of the first signs of progress is when the practitioner of presence sees that they are rarely present. It takes presence to recognize when you’re not present! Often the next sign of progress is when you can lovingly, and with humor, accept the fact that you are rarely present.
After nearly 20 years of disciplined contemplative practice I entered a three year program of intense practice of presence. One day I was walking down a sidewalk I had been on many times before. Suddenly I spotted an acquaintance coming in my direction. I did not want to engage with him, nor did I want to feel like a jerk pretending that I didn’t see him. I was in at least two places at once and not present in any of those places. At the very last split second I decided to turn, face him, and greet him. In that moment I didn’t notice the crack in the sidewalk. It grabbed the edge of my shoe and painfully, embarrassingly, brought me down to earth. At the very spot where I fell I noticed for the first time that someone had painted onto the sidewalk, “Remember, be here now!” I had never seen that message there until that now!
So, on the path of practicing the presence of God you will worry and you will become discouraged, you will stray and you will fall, and you will be here now. You will also grow in love and joy as you learn to lovingly accept your unique humanness where God is eternally, lovingly present.
For thousands of years practitioners of all paths have recognized the importance of having experienced companions on the journey. The staff of the Franciscan Spiritual Center have responded to the sacred call to be companions for those who are responding to their own sacred call.
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