Lesson 2: In the presence of God
I hope you enjoyed the first lesson. When I taught this course for the first time, a participant emailed me: ‘I attended the first lesson and the effect of the silence is rich and profound. I also did the deepening exercises and the silence is wholesome and peaceful and you can immerse yourself so deep, I just don’t have any words for it. It is so encouraging, especially now in this time of chaos. It brings you so close to the Lord.’ That’s great to hear!
2.1 To be in God’s presence
What is praying, really? Most would say: praying is talking with God. And that is how I myself thought about it for years. You can also say: praying is listening to God. But often this just doesn’t happen, busy as we are with our own words and thoughts.
Together with you throughout the course I hope to discover the main thing praying really is: to be in God’s presence, to become aware of his presence, to search for his presence. A precious Bible verse about this, for me, is Psalms 27:8:
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Listen to Psalm 27:8:
His face is the presence of the Lord God. He is here. He is with me. In every part of my life. But still I am most of the time unaware of this. Therefore we can hear His call: ‘Seek my face!’
2.2 Contemplation: attentively being present
Seeking the presence of God in your life and prayers is also called: contemplation. I want to introduce this word here now, because as the years passed it has become increasingly important to me.
The word contemplation can mean to ponder over something. But that is not the way we are using it here. Contemplation isn’t so much about being thoughtful, as it is about being present (preferably without many thoughts). Contemplation is about attaining tranquillity and becoming silent. And I want to add: in God’s presence.
A description I love to use for contemplation is: attentively being present in God’s attentive presence. Let this description take effect on you: attentively being present in God’s attentive presence.
For one thing is for sure: God is always present attentively. Why else would his name be: ‘I AM, I AM HERE’. He is the God who is present, the God who is! He knows me and you, and He always pays attention to us. On the other hand: often I am the one who is not present (too busy with anything and everything) and not attentive (my thoughts go in all directions, like frogs in a wheelbarrow).
The term contemplation might feel a bit unknown to you. The phrase came alive for me a bit more when I discovered the word ‘temple’ is a part of it: con-templ’-ation. Temple stands for: the place where God is present on earth (like in the tabernacle and the temple during the Old Testament). But that temple doesn’t exist anymore. Now we are, as God’s children, all temples! We are places where God is present. The New Testament literally calls us ‘temples of the holy Spirit’. (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19) It becomes even more clear that contemplation is about searching and experiencing God’s presence in a way in which I myself am completely present, by knowing God is above and around me, and also by his Spirit in me.
When later on in this book (from lesson 4) it is about ‘reading the Bible contemplative’ (or: lectio divina), just must remember that this concerns a way of reading where we especially are looking for Gods presence (and not so much for more knowledge or insight).
1. When have you experienced the presence of God? Do you remember where it was and what happened?
2. Contemplation is about attentively being present. What hinders you when it comes to attention and presence?
In this lesson I also invite you to listen attentively to a song. This time it is ‘We rest on thee’, Edith G. Cherry (1895), and set to music in Finlandia by Jean Sibelius (1899). I invite you to do so now. Do this as intently as possible. For instance by focussing completely on the music you hear. Or otherwise, by focussing especially on the words of the song. You can also listen twice (or more often). At first you sit quietly, get silent, and then start listening, attentively and present in the moment.
Luigi Gioia wrote two books about praying: Say it to God (2017) and Touched by God (2018). The quote below is from Say it to God:
The decision to suspend or shorten an activity for the benefit of prayer time, is an act of freedom, it is to disregard the rat race of the world, to show faith in the life to come and the passing of this world; knowing prayer and love, like the word of God, endure forever.