The Practice of the Presence of Persons

There is a short spiritual classic by Brother Lawrence titled, The Practice of the Presence of God in which the 80-year-old author exhorts his 64-year-old correspondent to live and die in the presence of God.

This letter says:

I pity you much. It will be of great importance if you can leave the care of your affairs to, and spend the remainder of your life only in worshipping God. He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration: sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favours He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can. Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company: the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of. It is not necessary for being with God to be always at church; we may make an oratory of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God, some more, some less: He knows what we can do. Let us begin then; perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage. We have but little time to live; you are near sixty-four, and I am almost eighty. Let us live and die with God: sufferings will be sweet and pleasant to us, while we are with Him: and the greatest pleasures will be, without Him, a cruel punishment to us. May He be blessed for all. Amen. Use yourself then by degrees thus to worship Him, to beg His grace, to offer Him your heart from time to time, in the midst of your business, even every moment if you can. Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules, or particular forms of devotion; but act with a general confidence in God, with love and humility. You may assure – of my poor prayers, and that I am their servant, and yours particularly.

What stuck me about this book when I first read it as a teenager and what comes back to me now is the consideration of how these exhortations might apply equally to practicing the presence of persons.

What do these instructions, which seems so spiritually astute, bring to bear if we apply them to our relationships with persons?

Here are some sentences to explore this line of thinking:

It will be of great importance if you can avoid being too busy in life so to have time to show reverence toward others. Reverence toward others does not demand extravagant gifts; using someone’s name, smiling, and asking, “What can I do for you?” can be the signs of affection that count. Let your heart be gladdened by the other’s presence and relish this person’s company in the ordinary events of life, such as when you are sharing a meal together. You need not always discuss matters of great sophistication; carrying one another’s burdens is the basis for the truest intimacy. It is not necessary for time spent together to always go according to plan; there is no poor or indifferent place for a communion of souls. Life is short. Let us live and die greatly accompanying one another through the sufferings of life. The ear of a friend shows hospitality to sorrow and refines what is heard into something new, shining with meaning. Spend yourself on showing reverence toward others, on bearing your wounds and bandaging those of which you bear witness. Act with great confidence that each person is a gift and that the proper response to a gift is always grateful wonder.

Art: A Family Meal by Evert Pieters at The Art Institute of Chicago

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