All religion, all spirituality is in a way a response to, or an awareness of, God’s presence in our lives. Religion is essentially the meeting place of God and humanity, a meeting that takes place here and now in this world of ours, a world He has created and one charged with the grandeur of His presence
There is no time, no place in our lives in which God is not present. There are not even certain times or places where He is more present. God is always the same. He does not “come” and “go” from one place to another. Everywhere and always, He is wholly and totally present in everything that exists.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about God’s presence in the world is that it is not an impersonal force or energy exercising its influence from some remote region of outer space. His influence is supremely personal and immediate.
Creation is one way in which God reveals himself to us. Saint John of the Cross spoke of creation bearing the footprints of God as “he passed by in haste scattering a thousand graces, clothing it in beauty.”
A Personal Presence
God is not the “ground of our being” in some dry, remote sort of way. We are not “surrounded” by God as by air, light or energy – like a fish in the ocean or a bird in the sky. God is a personal God and that is how He has revealed himself; He knows us personally and individually, His eyes are loving and caring. We are special “I called you by name you are mine.”
A Presence Within
Yet God is not just present to us, no matter how personal and immediate that may be; He is also present within us. By a special and beautiful gift, we are called by “grace”, He has made the human heart His own dwelling place on earth.
Prayer and Presence
Living in His presence is a matter of awareness and attention. It comes from the realization that God is close—“closer to me then my innermost self” is how Saint Augustine expressed it—and that to find him, I have only to look within my own heart. Few have understood or expressed this truth better than the 17th century French Carmelite, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. For him, practice of the presence was a way of life as much as a way of prayer.
“I have given up all non-obligatory devotions and prayers to concentrate on being always in His holy presence; I keep myself in His presence by simple attentiveness and a loving gaze upon God… As for time formally set aside for prayer, it is only a continuation of the same exercise.”
When Jesus said to His disciples to “pray always” (Luke 18: 1)., He was saying to live constantly in the presence of God, and that is just another way of making a prayer out of life itself. It is not a duty one is forced to perform, but a Christian birthright.
Blessed are Those Who Listen
In the scriptures, listening always takes precedence over seeing. Faith comes from what is heard the apostle Paul reminds us (Rom 10:14). Jesus himself counted it among the beatitudes: “blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). Prayer begins when we receive the word of God with a welcoming heart and let it live in our souls.
How often we think of prayer as knocking at the door of heaven when, in fact, it is the other way around. It is God who does the knocking. “Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you” (Rev 3:20 ). For the truth is that God is always knocking, always speaking, always invited.
To Pray is to Listen
Listening is a way of receiving. In prayer we must listen to God just as, in the same way, we ask Him to listen to us. That is why prayer always implies an openness to God, a placing of ourselves at His disposal in readiness to receive. Watching and waiting are the eyes of prayer; a listening heart is the key that unlocks the door. Prayer is talking to God who is listening and listening to God who is talking.
God speaks to us in many ways: in the scripture, in the wonders of creation, in the circumstances of daily life and in the depths of our own heart. His voice has many sounds. Our needs, our friends, the people we meet, the joys and sorrows of life —all these can carry His message and speak to us of His love. To pray is to listen. To pray well is to listen deeply—to God, to ourselves and others.
Sharing His Presence
To speak of placing ourselves in His presence can be misleading. We cannot in fact, place ourselves outside of it. To pray is to realize this presence of God, for prayer is not so much talking to God as being open and receptive to His presence.
Silence is an essential condition of listening. Prayer is born in silence, a still receptive silence that enables one to hear the deep vibrations of the Spirit. Silence is more than an absence of words or noise, much more even than just being quiet. It is an alert and attentive receptiveness to “hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). Like the boy Samuel, we cry out with our whole heart, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).
We often complain that God does not hear our prayers, does not listen to our requests, and that when we speak He does not listen. Yet frequently the truth is the other way around. Too often our hearts are set for transmission only, and incoming calls are not received. God is always “on the air“ and it takes only a listening heart to hear His voice and understand the message He speaks.
For a more in-depth description of how to be in the presence of God and listen for His voice, you may find the following post useful:
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Patterns of Prayer by Eugene McCaffrey