Sabbath II: Practicing the Presence
In the book I just finished, "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality," Pastor Peter Scazzero suggests that modern-day Christians return to an ancient practice: turning to God at set times during the day for prayer and meditation, or the "Daily Office."
As an introduction to the daily office, he suggests setting aside time in the morning and evening, or at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Start, he suggests, with a couple of minutes of quiet time, of centering on God and being still. This is essential to the practice, of listening to God in our busy world. As a person progresses through the daily office, these quiet times can grow: 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes--however long it takes to center on God and hear his voice.
I got through Day 4 of my Morning Office this morning. It was so hard to sit still and to focus my thoughts inward on God, even for a few minutes. I fidgeted, I twitched, I got up and made myself more coffee. But finally -- finally! -- I settled in and focused.
I set my feet firmly on the floor and took a few deep breaths, from my diaphragm. I closed my eyes and began by invoking the powerful names of God: "Yahweh," "Jehovah," "Holy One," "King of Kings," "Redeemer," "Messiah," "Jesus." Saying these mighty names slowly, under my breath, rhythmically, I found myself drawing close to the presence of God.
And then I began to pray. And the prayer I found myself praying when I finally quieted myself was that my face would be radiant for God. That a spirit of joy and peace would emanate from me to touch all other people whom I meet. I recalled Psalm 34:5: "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame."
You see, I want to practice the presence of God and I know I need to be touched by his joy and peace. As a person who struggles with depression and irritability, I know my interactions with other people, and with myself, need to be transformed.
In my devotional today, I read about Mary, who sat at Jesus' feet and listened to his teaching while her sister Martha busied herself with household tasks, preparing supper for Jesus. When Martha protested, Jesus chided her gently.
"'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Martha, even if she had stopped to listen to Jesus, still might have been irritable and distracted, unable to focus. Isn't that often the way of it? We become so consumed with "doing" for God--or just plain "doing"--that we forget about God. I know I certainly do. I don't still myself to wait upon God. It becomes "my way or the highway," rather than God's way. Lately, I have been praying that my own -- very strong! -- will would be bent to his will. That I would be patient enough to wait on God's time. His perfect time. Just as Mary waited upon Jesus.
What if Mary helped with the household chores? She would likely carry that spirit of calm and joy into her work.
What was the difference between Mary and Martha?
"(Mary's) inner person has slowed down enough to focus on Jesus and to center her life on him," writes Scazzero.
"Our goal is to love God with our whole being, to be consistently conscious of God through our daily life: whether we are stopped like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, or active like Martha, taking care of the tasks of life," writes Scazzero.
"We need to practice the presence of God," as my mother puts it. I think this means practicing stillness in a busy world, to listen for small, quiet voice of our Maker. Making time during the day for prayer and meditation can be a means of listening for the voice of the Maker.
And the promise if we do? That a very real peace from God will dwell with us. That our faces will be radiant with God's joy.