Welcome to Episode 049 of the “Awakening with Nathanael Wolf” podcast and radio broadcast.
In this episode, Nathanael continues a series entitled, “A Deeper Life in Prayer”.
In this episode, you’ll discover:
- That the most holy and necessary practice in your spiritual life is the practice of the presence of God.
- What is the practice of the presence of God? The practice of the presence of God is simply receiving and remaining in the awareness of the presence of God.
- Prayer is nothing more than an awareness of the presence of God.
Notable episode quotes:
- “Practically speaking, how do we place God in our prayer? Where is God? This simple, childlike question may evoke an easy answer: “Everywhere!” Truly, God is everywhere and in everything, but how can we pray to “everywhere” How do we think of “everywhere”? If we are to engage God in prayer, everywhere must be somewhere. To pray to a God who inhabits everywhere would fragment our consciousness and splinter our prayers even more than the distractions they already suffer. A review of my stages of prayer will perhaps offer you a variety of postures, but they eventually lead to God in my heart. In my first efforts at prayer, I placed God on the rim of the universe, looking at me from afar and, I hoped, listening to me. Thinking of God as “up there and out there” kept the presence far, far away; the relation took the form of a long-distance distance phone call in which I did most of the talking. When I offered intercessory prayer, it seemed like I was persuading—or trying to persuade—God to be good and get involved with those persons for whom I was praying. Eventually praying to God on the rim of the universe gave way to praying to God closer at hand—even in the room with me. I recall this radical shift as one that introduced me to talking with Jesus as if he were sitting ting in a chair in front of me. To add to the concreteness of the encounter with him, I even placed an empty chair before me in which I imagined him sitting. For a time, praying to the Christ seated before me gave focus and clarity to my prayer, but eventually this image became too fixed. What had begun with spontaneity and a deep sense of reality became frozen, rigid, and controlled. Eventually “Christ sitting before me” became a technique, and methods, no matter how well-intentioned, are short-lived in vital prayer. As time went on, praying to Jesus in the chair seemed to make him into an idol. I do not judge those who have found this imaginative way of praying helpful. For some it does not lead to idolatry, nor do they use this envisioning of Christ as a means to manipulate God. It can truly be a helpful way to pray, but neither this nor any form endures. To avoid the perversions of prayer before Jesus, I sought out a different perspective on the place of God in prayer. Following Nicholas of Cusa, John Donne said, “Our seeing God is not so much our seeing as being seen.” An amazing shift in consciousness occurs when we let ourselves be seen rather than trying to see. I found myself being set free from images ages of any sort, and the thought of a person before me soon became the thought of a presence behind me. When I conceived of God as behind me, the presence was out of my line of vision, and an image was not required. Being seen required having an awareness of God’s presence, not possessing a mental image of God. Quickly the image changed to presence, and I experienced prayer as being before Another whose face I could not see and did not need to see. Being seen felt so easy. I didn’t struggle to focus on Another, only to be before this One who saw me, knew me, and loved me. My attention was not passive and indifferent but open, active, and receptive. My effort changed from seeking God to letting myself be found by God, from focusing my eyes to see to letting myself be seen. Being seen by the “everywhere” where” God shifted the effort from imagining God in all places to conceiving the divine presence in this place. Notice in this narrative how, over the years, I have envisioned God moving closer and closer to me. My adolescent efforts at prayer were directed to a God who dwelt in outer space, somewhere up, out, and beyond me. Then the distant God became a presence in Christ before me. This move from “God out there” to One before me with whom I spoke made communion and fellowship possible. The God from Beyond may break into consciousness in episodic moments to issue commands or effect a spiritual transformation, but these moments occur infrequently and leave us wondering when the next visitation may occur. The shift from God before me to God behind me came late in my spiritual development. With that relocation I lost the need for images (how can you image what you cannot see?), and the previous forms of Jesus before me changed to a presence around me. God, whom I do not see, is with me as presence. God loves me, knows me, and presents godself to me, but I do not see God—God sees me. Yet, in faith, I see God seeing me. At this late stage in my life, I am struggling with yet another transition: God in me. The idea, of course, is not a new one. Since the early days of my discipleship, I have been aware of his promise to be with us and in us. I have known for years the texts that speak of his being the Vine, and I one of the branches, and of my being baptized into his body. There is a vast difference, however, between knowing the texts and experiencing them. I have come to believe that God teaches us when we are prepared to learn and leads us when we are able to follow. This notion of spiritual readiness has led me to the conviction that it is Christ who teaches us to live before God. As the Master Teacher, he finds a way to direct us at the appropriate time into the next steps for our lives. Knowing something of his manner of speaking made me notice and pay attention to an idea that kept coming to me in my prayer. Repeatedly, in the silence, these words came to me: “I am in you. Attend me in your heart.” For more than three years this direction persisted: “Think of me as being in you.” [Johnson, Ben Campbell. Living before God: Deepening our Sense of the Divine presence. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2000. Kindle Edition. pp. 97-99]
- “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence
- “Practicing God’s Presence” by Robert Elmer
- “Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life” by Simon Chan
- “Living Before God” by Ben Campbell Johnson
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Until next time, may you have more kingdom reality, the joy-life of fellowshipping in the family of God, and “MAS FUEGO!” (MORE FIRE!”)
Yours in Christ,
Nathanael & Michelle Wolf
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