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Practicing the Presence of God

God is not very far from any one of us, for it is in God that we live and move and have our very being. – Acts 17:27

I’ve been making some changes to the way I pray as of late. Mostly because a few people have entered my life who have been convicting me about how foolish our prayers often are. Mostly because we are continually asking God to do things he’s already doing. Asking him to make a reality which already exists.

“God, please bless Noah”, I would pray. As if God wasn’t already blessing Noah. Or was going to refrain from blessing him if I didn’t ask.

“God, please be with Russ during this difficult time.” As if God wasn’t already encompassing and holding Russ. Or would forget to keep his appointment to walk with him in a time of sorrow if I didn’t remind him.

“God, please give Sophia a heart which longs for you.” As if God had neglected to create his daughter with a heart that already longs for him.

But probably the most egregious example of praying for God to do something he’s already done has to do with presence. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times – particularly when praying with other people – I’ve started a prayer with some version of “Lord, please allow us to enter into your presence” or “God, we ask that you be present with us”.

The reality is that God is always present with us. Praying for God’s presence is like praying, “Lord, please grant us the gift of oxygen during our time together.” It all comes, I suppose, from the rather childish, unconcious assumption that if we aren’t aware of something, it doesn’t exist and if we can’t see something, it isn’t happening.

There isn’t anything wrong with praying these prayers, per se. They train our hearts to desire good things and cultivate loving care for the people around us. But part of growing up is learning to deal more forthrightly with reality. So my prayers are changing.

Instead of asking for blessings on Noah, I thank God for blessing Noah. I praise God for being present to Russ. I stand in awe and wonder that God created Sophia with a heart which naturally longs for him. (A genius move on his part, btw.) And instead of asking for God’s presence, I ask him to make me aware of his presence.

Which is what my third tip for prayer is all about:

Practice the Presence of God

In the past, I would sometimes take a moment in the middle of what I was doing to call up or summon the presence of God – or so I thought. Now I realize that I wasn’t really calling up or down the presence of God. I was simply making myself aware of God who is already and always present. 

The simplest way to do this is by using your breath. All you do is chose a word such as love, Jesus, God, Christ or Yahweh and then quietly repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply. Two syllable words are helpful as you can say the first syllable as you breathe in and the second as you breathe out. When using a one syllable word, I usually just elongate it in my mind to cover both the inhale and exhale of breathe. Repeat this exercise a few times until you feel yourself relaxing and becoming aware of the peace and presence of God around you.

This practice is what is known as centering prayer. Centering prayer is also the basis for contemplative prayer which is the practice of repeating this breath exercise over an extended period of time – usually at least 15 minutes. (Who knew that all these different ways of praying actually had names?!)

This all sounds a little buddhist/new agey, but this practice has very deep roots in both Christian and Hebrew tradition. In fact, the name Yahweh is directly connected to breath and being, so using our breath to become aware of God’s being with us is quite appropriate:  

“The letters of the name of God in Hebrew… are infrequently pronounced Yahweh. But in truth they are inutterable…. This word {YHWH} is the sound of breathing.The holiest name in the world, the Name of Creator, is the sound of your own breathing. That these letters are unpronounceable is no accident. Just as it is no accident that they are also the root letters of the Hebrew verb ‘to be’… God’s name is name of Being itself.” ~Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

Now, if you are feeling adventurous and up to it, you can start a practice of contemplative prayer using this exercise. And that would be a very good thing. It’s just the sort of meditative practice which researchers have found confirs all kinds of health and emotional benefits. Plus, learning to sit and just be in the presence of God has immeasurable spiritual benefits.

But, these tips are for slackers. So even if you’re not going to start a practice of contemplative prayer, you can experience a lot of benefits from using this exercise in small doses through out your day. It could be a moment when you’re bored or stressed or frustrated or just enjoying watching your kids playing. All you have to do is take a few breaths while repeating your word and within seconds, you will become more aware of and attuned to God’s presence in that moment. Try it – it works!

Pass It On!

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#christianity #christianspirituality #spirituality #prayeer #contemplativeprayer #life #religion #centeringprayer

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