The Practice of the Presence of God

by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff

Back in the early 90s, my husband Paul had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. I remember buying him a T-shirt at the time that asked on one side, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” On the other, it said, “Practice, practice, practice.”

You probably guessed that’s what it said, and most of us would agree that’s what it takes to achieve things in this world. It takes practice because we don’t naturally have those skills unless we practice. But, from the perspective of A Course in Miracles, experiencing the presence of love is a recognition and not a change at all. It is not something we earn through practice or sacrifice but through release and focus. The Course tells us that truth stands right next to our illusions, that Heaven is here, now, and that the only block to this awareness is where we choose to place our attention.

The Course urges us to a different type of “practice.” To achieve the awareness of love, we must be “vigilant only for God and His Kingdom.” (T-7.I.2) This is not because God has denied us His Kingdom or Presence in our minds and hearts but because we find other things more interesting than His Presence and the peace this brings us. The need for vigilance is why we have 365 lessons in a workbook and nearly 800 pages explaining our path to awakening.

As the Course says, “To be in the Kingdom is merely to focus your full attention on it.” (T-7.III.4) God is not hiding from us, waiting for us to say the magic words or find the secret passage. He is right here now in plain sight; it is not a sight of our physical eyes but our spiritual vision and awareness. Therefore, our vigilance is necessary to refocus on what is true and truly valuable to our peace of mind so we can move past the distractions of the world.

To most of us, the word “merely” stands out in the above quote because it seems to signify something simple and easy. From the Course’s perspective, it is simple because we are never alone in anything we do; God is here and with us now. But we must want this awareness more than complaining about life’s tedious or overwhelming problems because it asks us for our full attention.

Giving our full attention may seem almost impossible in this world, but remember, we only need to be willing to turn in God’s direction and be willing to want the peace and presence of God more than all the distractions of the world. Once we do that, God takes over, but this willingness must make sense to us so we might at least try it. That’s why I was drawn to this short book, The Practice of the Presence of God. It was written by a monk who lived in a monastery in France in the 1600s. His name was Brother Lawrence, and his epiphany resulted from the ordinary and mundane that had previously robbed him of his peace. Brother Lawrence was assigned to kitchen duty in the monastery and every day consisted of the same thing. He would wash the floors, peel the potatoes, wash the dishes, make the meals, and then start again. Every day was a dull existence with no reprieve. Sound familiar?

Anyway, he hated his assignment, but he did it. He quickly realized that his “hatred” did him no good. It didn’t get the floors washed or the potatoes peeled any faster. It was his duty at the monastery, and that would not change. If he were to experience his purpose as a monk, he would need to become the change he sought.

So, he began to focus on the pleasure he felt in seeing others enjoy his food. He decided to enjoy the simple tasks of peeling the potatoes and washing the floors. He found tremendous joy among his dishes due to using that time for prayer and conversations with God. Others were drawn to him in the kitchen and enjoyed being around him because of his joy and contentment.

We all find ourselves in circumstances we could do without, but there we are! Our jobs may seem repetitive or overwhelming; we just don’t know what to do. But, we do have a mighty power, and that is our power to choose where we will dwell: in the hell of our judgments about life and our circumstances or in the awareness that each moment is a doorway to the joy of God.

In the Course, we read, “The ego made the world as it perceives it, but the Holy Spirit, the reinterpreter of what the ego made, sees the world as a teaching device for bringing you home.” (T-5.III.11) We have Help to reinterpret this world that seems so real to us and to transform it into the Heaven we are promised. But, we must become vigilant for that change.

Perhaps we can commit to practicing God’s presence together. One of my favorite thoughts in the Course comes from lesson 237: “I will arise in glory and let the light in me shine upon the world throughout the day.”

This is such a wonderful thought that reminds me not only of my true purpose, to shine the light of God upon the world, but that to shine that light, I must be that light already! Knowing that God walks with me is empowering, but it is only part of the awareness. Unless I let that power, presence, and love shine out into my world and all of my mundane, day-to-day activities, I really don’t experience it.

When our son Jeff was just starting school, I was guided to this empowering idea of lesson 237 as a prayer for him. Every day, as he would go out the door, I would hug him and say: “I will arise in glory, and allow the light in me to shine upon the world throughout the day.” Saying this was not just for him because I stood a little taller and felt a sense of power and peace as I said this thought.

To this day, as an adult, Jeff thanks me when I hug him and say this prayer. I even use this prayer during retreats because it is such an invaluable tool to awaken our real power and purpose in every moment.

It is now time for all of us to be that light, to be the change we are seeking, to bring joy and light into this moment. It is a practice, but not in the traditional sense. This practice of vigilance is supported by the presence of God, whose only purpose is that we might experience Heaven now. Join me in saying…

“I will arise in glory, and allow the light in me to shine upon the world throughout the day.”

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