Practice comes first

William 2

For the contemplative, nothing is more important than practicing the presence of God. This is the foundation of our life and of our service with the world. If at all possible, this is how we begin our day. Practice comes first.

This morning I did some devotional reading and then some informational reading about pastoring as I ate breakfast. But there I had to stop. If I had gone any further I would’ve missed my time to practice God’s presence. Reading for information or even for formation is not the same as practicing God’s presence. For me today that meant sacred yoga postures and closing with a period of centering prayer. In both practices the fundamental attitude is consenting to God’s presence and action within.

Such practices have been sustaining me for decades. And yet there is no carry-over from one day to the next. I begin again each day to fill my inner reservoir, and there is no substitute for this day’s practice. I can’t count on having been filled by some experience of that quiet Inner Presence from yesterday, much less from last week or month or year. Practice comes first each day.

Yesterday I got to participate in two centering prayer groups, each lasting about 20 minutes. Today I will get to participate in two centering prayer groups, each lasting about the same. But yesterday’s individual practice and group practices still did not fill my inner reservoir enough to give me what I need today. The reservoir of presence needs new filling each day since yesterday’s filling evaporates. It really works like a body of water in a pond or lake. There is perpetual evaporation and the need for continual filling.

A warning here is that we cannot fill ourselves. In a paradox of the contemplative life, we can only make ourselves available each day. We do commit to stop our usual doing, including spiritual reading or such things, to make time for the filling from within by the Presence who is within. Making time for our own contemplative practices is the work of the contemplative life. Practice comes first. Everything else, including our day of service, flows from there.

If you are anything like me, you need a lot of support for this counter-cultural path of practicing the presence of God each day as a first priority. That is one of the best reasons to form a group of like-minded friends so we can support each other in this starting over each day. I believe we deserve this daily filling of the inner reservoir and deserve the help of others in finding it. Their common intention supports our own.

So if you want the gate of heaven to open before you, get off that booty and get with other people who would also like to experiment with practicing God’s presence. If you have no established practice, download the guidelines for centering prayer from Contemplative Outreach and start there. Then you can branch out and experiment with other practices which bring a sense of God’s presence. There are a million ways to practice, and practice comes first, so let’s get started!

For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture. The Kindle book version is now available.

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About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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