Learning From Larry

Over the past year, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God has been incredibly impactful and meaningful for me. 

This little book has called me back again and again to be challenged by the simplicity and directness of Brother Lawrence, a French monk who lived in the 1600s. 

I believe that any truly effective spirituality must be able to be lived anywhere, anytime. 

It should be simple (not easy), and not require a special time, or special place in order to be effective. 

(This is NOT to say that special gathering times and places are not HELPFUL; merely that effective spirituality should be day-to-day, lived out in the sometimes muck and mire of a “normal” human life.) 

Brother Lawrence came up with a version of that spirituality. 

You really should read the book for yourself, but regardless Brother Lawrence offers a short summary of his approach, which I’ll share here. 

(Brother Lawrence shares his “method” in a letter, but it’s telling to me that he writes to the recipient that he shares his thoughts, “only upon the terms that you show my letter to nobody.” How’s that for humility? Just to be clear: Brother Lawrence himself didn’t publish The Practice of the Presence. It was collected and published after his death by someone else.) 

So here’s how he describes it: 

  1. He began with a decision to give himself wholly to God. 
  2. He renounced everything that was NOT God. 
  3. He began to live as if there was no one and nothing in the world except He and God. 
  4. He occupied his mind with different aspects of his relationship to God, such as a Father to a son, or a judge to a criminal. 
  5. He attempted to keep his mind entirely occupied like this (and yes, it was difficult), and whenever he found his mind wandering he returned to it, again and again. 

This last part is key, because our minds WILL wander. And when his did, Brother Lawrence just re-purposed his mind back to God, WITHOUT condemning or “troubling or disquieting” himself. 

What You Signed Up For

Praying, “Your will be done,”

(Or “Thy will,” if you’re old school)

Can sometimes be easy… probably TOO easy.

But then you pause and reflect on what you’re REALLY signing up for.

Because the truth is I really, REALLY want my will to be done, most of the day, most every day.

And when my day doesn’t turn out perfectly, I usually have a strong—often negative—reaction to it.

… I get depressed, or angry, or resentful.

But as I think about it now, most (let’s be honest, virtually ALL) of that depression, anger, and resentment comes about because the word didn’t turn out the way I would have preferred.

So REALLY, my prayer is, in fact, “MY WILL BE DONE.”

That’s not healthy for me, nor is it what I TRULY desire, and I have to remember that:

a. Life is not about me-my comfort, my desires, my perspective
b. God either IS, or he is NOT
c. My job is FIRST to accept life on life’s terms, which means at least CONSIDERING the possibility that what might be happening to me, for better or for worse, might be God’s will for that day.
d. SECONDLY, my job is to ask—particularly in the face of challenging or disappointing circumstances—”God what should I be learning right now.”

That’s just for me. Signing on to “Thy will be done” is serious business. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. And I believe it’s the way to “true life” for me.

When All Else Fails

When all else fails in your day, you can fall back on this: 

Life is lived 24 hours at a time. 

You can’t control tomorrow, you can’t change yesterday. 

All you have is here and now. 

Biblically, you might say it this way, “His mercies are new every morning.” (Lamentations Ch. 3)

Some days, you just have to “call it,” and say, “I’m not sure I can do any better today…” 

(Making sure to ask forgiveness where necessary…)

“…But I can just close the door on today, trusting that tomorrow will come and I will have another chance to do/be better.” 

When all else fails, you still have another chance tomorrow. 

This is a way to keep moving forward and not get stuck in today’s failures (or successes for that matter.) 

Humility, Part 3: What’s it To You?

There’s this great story at the end of John’s Gospel (“Good News Story”). Jesus is talking to Peter, one of his followers, and Peter makes some remark about a third follower, and wants to know will happen to this other person. 

Jesus replies to him, basically, “What’s it to you? Why should you care?”

Part of living in humility is surrendering our pathological need and desire to change other people. To debate them. To assume—without invitation—the role of truth-teller (prophet) or teacher. 

We think it’s always our job to correct error, or to share what we “know” in order to “enlighten” others and show them how brilliant we are and how wrong they are. 

(Yes, those quotes and italics are intended.) 

Some of us, at times are, in fact, called to be teachers and truth-tellers. 

But my sense is that most of the time I just want to tell people off and convince them (and myself) that I’m right.

But living a life of humility (and, I daresay, healthy spirituality) requires sometimes listening to the spirit of Jesus say to us, “What’s it to you? Why should you care?” 

Everyone is on their own unique journey. 

Furthermore, I am only human, and it shouldn’t be a shock or a reach to consider, if only for a moment, that maybe, just maybe I don’t have all the answers. 

Sometimes daily, tactical humility involves surrendering my “right” to teach or argue with others, and to trust that they are on their own journey through life. 

Humility, Pt 2

If humility has an “antithesis” or opposite, it’s pride. Certainly pride is having an exaggerated view of oneself, of believing that somehow you are better than others, or that somehow you “deserve” everything you’ve obtained in the world.

But there’s actually another, even more subtle way to think about pride. 

Pride is anything that separates you from other human beings. 

When you think about pride in this way, it opens up whole new (and often troubling) ideas to consider. 

Because it means that pride can happen, not only when we are dwelling on the POSITIVE things that set us apart from others, but also our NEGATIVE behaviors and personality traits. 

To say it another way, cultivating humility does not mean practicing shame.

When you are thinking that somehow you are the worst person in the world, you are dwelling on something that sets you apart—and makes you unique—from other people. 

True humility is not thinking of yourself as necessarily worse than other people, it’s actually not thinking of yourself at all

True, deep humility can be a whimsical, others-centered, way of being and living that is centered deeply in a secure peaceful awareness of a God who loves you. 

It’s almost counter-intuitive, but true humility—self-forgetfulness—happens when we are so sure about who we are in God that we are free to completely focus on the moment and on others. 

On Humility, Pt. 1

Humility is the “skeleton key” to spirituality. It opens the door to a journey of wonder, of transformation, of love and peace and contentment. 

I think that the reason that humility is so powerful is that humility seems to start with some version of “I don’t know.” 

At some level, it is a renunciation of our pride. 

We no longer have to have all the answers. We no longer have to be right. 

We can just “be,” and learn to know that being—with all of our imperfections and “lumps”—is enough. 

So maybe today can be a day when you begin to appropriate a little humility, not only towards God/the Universe, but also towards other people. 

(Which is infinitely harder to do, but bears just as much fruit as humility towards your Higher Power.) 

Release yourself from having the answers today. It’s a gift. 

Job One

What if your first “job” is not: 

… to run 3 miles
… to plan dinner
… to respond to THAT post? 
… to get a head start on your work list
… to catch up on the news
… to get the kids out of bed? 

What if your “job one” is to sit yourself down in the presence of the Love of the universe and know that, before anything else, you are going to be okay? 

What if job one is to perceive and receive the smile of infinite love (and maybe give a smile back)? 

What if job one is to breathe quietly and attach to no thoughts except for, “I consent to Your Spirit”? 

Because if you get job one done correctly, all of those other “what ifs” fall into place in a pretty amazing way. 

Start With What You Know

In times like these (or in any time, really) it’s very easy to get caught up in everything that you don’t know or understand. 

Whether it’s an inability to gather face-to-face in a spiritual community right now, or what you think you “don’t know” about spirituality, or the Bible, or growth, focusing on our perceived LACK of things can be paralyzing. 

It’s usually better—or at least more productive—to begin with what you DO know: 

… You’re not perfect (and that’s okay)
… You’d like to grow
… You need help

If you can start with those things—which are all really about humility—it’s easy to become open and available for change. Your eyes get a little wider and your hearing gets a little sharper, and pretty soon you will start to notice opportunities for change and growth. For trust and honesty and service. 

Start today. Nothing is holding you back. 

A Poem for Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day, when we remember/acknowledge the day where Jesus ascends into heaven after his resurrection. The text can be found in the Book of Acts, chapter 1:

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he game them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them, “It is not for you to now the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Acts chapter 1 (NIV)

“Ascension Day”

When you soared, feet leaving earth
(or so I’m told)
Like scarred Superman
Taking flight
Watching us roll away
(And looking at the bottoms of your feet)

We were alone then,
But with more than we ever had before.

For then you entered us—YOU!
Invaded our flesh
Penetrated spirit and being
The true soul-lover

So that you, in Spirit
Could be with us—
Seeing MORE
Calling for MORE
Inviting us into destiny.

While you in FLESH
Re-assumed your place
In the divine dance,
And brought humanity home
Flesh and blood back to Father and Sister Spirit.

We watched while this happened
Typically unknowing—maybe—
That all the universe had changed
As it always does.

Rain Poem #38

The window only has to be opened a crack;
An inch or two,
That’s all it takes in order
To feel the hint of rain-cool air
And to hear the subtleties
Of the drops of rain

The thunder, however—
That’s another thing altogether:
Announcing its presence,
Invading through closed doors and windows,
Conquering the airspace
Within and without
And proclaiming,
“Today’s a day for sleeping in,
Or for sitting and watching
The weather work its magic
On the suburban landscape
That you forget
Does not belong to you.”