Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Experiencing the Presence of God
by Dr Alex Tang
God is to be worshipped everywhere (Malachi 1:11; Tim. 2:8), in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23,24); as in private families (Jer. 10:25;Deu. 6:6,7; Job 1:5; 2 Sam. 6:18; 1 Peter 3:7; Acts 10:2), daily (Mt. 6:11), and in secret each one by himself (Matt. 6:6; Eph. 6:18); so more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto (Isa. 56:6,7; Heb. 10:25; Prov. 1:20,21,24; 8:34; Acts 13:42; Luke 4:16; Acts 2:42)
The Westminster Confession of Faith
Our spiritual formation is rooted in the world. It is not practiced in a monastery or a hidden cave but in the loud and noisy confusion of our everyday lives. It is involved with our work, our studies, our homemaking, our hopes, our fears, our community and our society. It is involved with nature and the cities. The fourth aspect of spiritual formation, experiencing God in daily life is the cross planted in the ground.
Acknowledging God’s Presence in our Daily Routine.
Christian spirituality is defined as ‘our consciousness of God’s presence and to live in such a way that the presence of God is central in all that we do. This awareness of God is not automatic, nor can it be bought about by any particular technique. We can however, open ourselves to an already present God by deliberately cultivating certain disciplines of mind and will.’
We are to love God, we are to be alive to him, we are to be in communion with him, in this present moment of history. And we are to love men, to be alive to men as men, and to be in communication on a personal level with men, in this present moment of history. (italics his)
Francis Schaeffer [True spirituality]
Evelyn Underhill summarised it as ‘communion with God and co-operation with God.’
1.1 Attention to the Absent God
James Houston writing is his book, The Transforming Power of Prayer, talked about the need to pay attention to the absent God. Since God is not visible, we need to have visible reminders to remind us of the presence of God. Examples are having a Bible at the bedside to remind one to pray when we get up or before we fall asleep, saying ‘grace’ before meals, having family devotion, having a weekly Sabbath, going to church and having stickers or a wooden cross around the house. All these items are to remind us of the presence of God in our lives because we are so easily distracted by the world.
1.2 The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer comes to us as a gift of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It was transmitted in its earliest version as lectio divina. The Jesus Prayer is more narrowly focussed than lectio divina because it always uses the same biblical words. The words is the combination of the pleas in Luke 18:38 and Luke 18:13.
The first phrase-“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – comes from the lips of a blind man outside Jericho. The second plea comes from the story of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee in his prayer listed all his pious practices. The publican prayed a simple, heartfelt prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.
Across the ages, Christians have prayed. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” One of the shorter versions is: “Jesus Christ, have mercy”.
The Jesus Prayer is called a prayer of the “mind in the heart”. In the beginning your body prays the prayer. Your mouth repeats it as your mind concentrate on physically reciting it and the meaning of the words recited. Eventually, after thousands of repetition, perhaps over a number of years, you no longer repeat the words with your mouth but your mind keeps praying the prayer. Finally comes the prayer of the mind in the heart. You no longer consciously think about the words of the prayer. Now your whole life prays the prayer without your thinking about it. Or the prayer prays your life. Unconsciously, you focus your deepest attention-the attention of your entire life- on God.
“Sacrament of the Present Moment.”
The phase ‘the sacrament of the present moment” is translated from a book by Jean-Pierre de Caussade titled Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence. In the book, de Caussade who lived at the close of the seventeenth century taught about the holy or sacredness of every moment we are experiencing now. Every moment is a sacred moment, hence it is like a sacrament. Thomas Merton wrote, “ Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”
For every moment of our life, we must ask the following questions:
q In what sense can this experience be a divine or holy moment or task?
q How is Christ mediated to me through this moment or task?
q How can the fulfillment of this present moment or task be a participation in the life and death of Christ?
Here we are not talking about religious moments or tasks. We are talking about the ordinary routine mundane moments or tasks we are doing in our daily life: driving to work, washing the dishes, cooking a meal, shopping for a pair of shoes, picking our children from tuition or weeding the garden.
Examen of Consciousness.
Examen is a Latin word related to the concept of examination. The word actually indicates the point on scale that points to the true weight of something placed on the scale. Examen of consciousness means assessing one’s life before God on a regular basis. Examen of consciousness is a prayer developed by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. He urged all members to use this prayer daily, even when they are travelling, working or involved in projects where other forms of prayers are impossible.
Recollection is the root of the prayer of examen. It asks us to focus on the last twenty-four hours of our life. The prayer of examen is one way to prevent days from going by unexamined and unlived.
Gratitude is the first step in the prayer of examen. We scan the previous day looking for events, experiences, ideas, encounters and conversations that came across as good gifts to us and have provoked gratitude. As we recall we keep stopping and saying, “O, yes, I remember. Thank you, Lord.” This is a reminder that no matter how bad the day has been, God continues His sustaining work in our lives. The prayer of examen makes us into a grateful people.
Awareness of God is the second step in the prayer of examen. We go back over the last twenty-four hours, this time looking for God’s presence. Sometimes it is easy. We see a young baby smile and we feel the joy of a creator God. At times it is difficult when the days was dark and weary. Yet in our discontent, we can find new life as our daily functioning as a human being is a gift of God. The prayer of examen can make us into the type of people who lives constantly with the awareness of God’s presence.
Confession of failure is the final step in the prayer of examen. We recall the last twenty-four hours but this time we are alert to the times when we fail the Lord, when we choose against the way of love and refused to get involved. We search for the times when we refused the work of the Holy Spirit, when we refuse to allow the Spirit to work in and through us. As we find these ‘refusals’, we hold up to the Lord in confession and repentance. We ask for forgiveness. The prayer of examen helps us to avoid issues of failures and transgressions as they occur.
The prayer of examen is about noticing: noticing the good gifts God gives us, noticing the presence of God in our lives, and noticing the ways we fail God. When we notice, we become more conscious. When we become more conscious, we grow.
We each have a story to tell. Our stories tell us who we are as they chart the unfolding of our lives. Our memories are often fallible. Journaling helps us to make sense of our stories, understand their significance and connect it to God’s story. Journals are powerful tools for reflection. The very act of writing down an idea often sparks additional thoughts, insights and concerns. Our journals help us to know here we have been, who we are now and who we hope to be. Journaling is a powerful tool in spiritual formation.
A journal may be used to:
q capture your history
q understand the present and recover your past
q interact with your history
q explore your emotional response
q nurture your spiritual life
A journal may be a blank notebook, a ring file or a computer hard disk. You might like to divide it into the following divisions:
v Daily: staying in touch with your life as it unfolds.
v History: reconstructing the spiritual milestones of your past.
v Dialogue: journaling a “conversation” with God.
v Disciplines: exercises to promote spiritual growth.
v Bible Study: analysing and applying Scripture.
v Dreams: recording your nightly images.
v Musings: recording insights, thoughts and recollections.
v Family: marking key events in your family’s development.
v Work: keeping notes and materials related to your job.
Community of Faith.
The best place to grow into an greater awareness of God’s presence is in an community of faith, a group of like minded people each seeking the Lord in their own way.
5.1 Creation: A Place to Choose and Care.
A community is a place for creation. A place to choose and practice
your spiritual pathways and to care for each other using our God
5.1 Redemption: A Place to be Reconciled and to Heal.
A community is a place for reconciliation and healing. As we grow to love God, we grow to love one another. St. John of the Cross notes “the deeper our love for God, the deeper is our love for our neighbour. For when love is rooted in God, the reason for all love is one and the same, the cause of all love is one and the same.” St. John of the Cross was a sixteenth century Spanish Carmelite. His famous writings are The Dark Night of the Soul and The Ascent of Mount Carmel.
5.2 Transformation: A Place to Grow and Develop.
A community is a safe place for us to grow and develop. A place to experiment and make mistakes.
Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker Press, 1982.
This little book is a classic and everyone should have a copy in his or her personal library and the book should be read and reread again and again It is written in simple language and is easy to understand.
Thomas à Kempis. The Imitation of Christ. North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publisher, 1999.
This is another Christian classic that is definitely worth reading. It has been called Christianity’s most beloved book after the Bible. I like this edition because it was translated by Harold J. Chadwick into contemporary English, which makes for easy reading. This book is to be read slowly to allow the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to its truth. A suitable book for lectio divina.
Soli Deo Gloria
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