The Presence of God
One of my longstanding directees recently said, ‘ I know, of course, that God is everywhere, but it is only recently that I have realised that this means the presence of God is everywhere.’ This struck me as an important distinction: there is a huge difference to believing in God as omnipresent and that belief having an impact on how one behaves, thinks and feels. For my friend it was engaging with writing on Celtic spirituality that opened up a new path on her journey of faith. Celtic spirituality is characterised by the blessing or consecration of each moment and action by deliberate mental prayer: by an explicit naming and describing of God’s active presence in the stuff of daily life; lighting a fire, preparing a meal, opening a door, going to sleep. In Celtic spirituality the whole of life becomes one hymn and song, celebrating the presence of God. All this makes theological sense for the whole of creation is work of The Word who speaks to us though all that exists. This is one way of living in the presence of God.
Within the Orthodox tradition there is another way of living in God’s presence and this is by calling on the name of Jesus. The use of the Jesus prayer ‘ Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner’ can be used as a rhythmic pulse to keep the mind and the will focussed on the presence of God. Sometimes guides suggest marrying the offering of the prayer with the rhythm of breathing. To use this kind of mental prayer does not suit everyone and demands commitment and patience before it bears any fruit. There are examples in the medieval mystical tradition of using a few words to keep the centre of consciousness in the presence of God. Walter Hilton in the ‘Ladder of Perfection’ advises the interior calling out to Jesus by simply using his name and conversely simply and deliberately inwardly saying ‘No’ when the mind and will drift elsewhere. There are no short cuts to practising the presence of God.
In Ignatian Spirituality the practice of contemplation is used to raise the spiritual consciousness of an individual and by a series of spiritual exercises to both develop an awareness of the spiritual influences at work in an individual and enable them to discern the call of Christ moment by moment. Here the presence of God is found in a deeper and living relationship with Jesus, which shapes the action of a person. This consciousness of the constant call of Christ is maintained by a pattern of reviewing experience by an exercise called ‘ the review of consciousness’ to be used at several points during the day. Assiduous use of these exercises does make it possible to live and move in God’s presence in an active way.
All prayer and worship has the same end; to sensitise both the mind and emotional awareness to the work of the Holy Spirit. It really doesn’t matter whether it is Celtic prayers, the Jesus Prayer, the Ignatian Exercises or simple reflective Bible reading. The vital activity is spending time alone with God. Know God in your own room and you stand a better chance of being with him everywhere.