When I was 20 years old and first claiming my identity as a contemplative mystic, I read “The Practice of the Presence of God,” a little book that describes the practice of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk. I returned to the book recently, its text now online thanks to Project Gutenberg.
“His own prayer,” wrote Joseph de Beaufort, representative and counsel to the local archbishop, “was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine Love.“
Brother Lawrence described how, when he caught himself not being with God, he did not get upset, but returned to his practice.
“Brother Lawrence said we ought, once and for all, heartily put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us. We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. We should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our care and to our exceeding great delight.”
In writing about the moment of surrender, I am writing about that split-second when I realize that I have lost focus and need to return to the present moment. Patient surrender is important because I am not casting blame or making harsh judgments that would lead to feeling shame. Instead, I am simply noticing that I am woolgathering and returning myself to this moment.
There is a humility here. It’s prideful to punish myself for making a mistake. Brother Lawrence turned his mistakes over to God, saying “’ It is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss.’ Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.” Remembering my 12 step days, “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.” With such trust in God, there is no need to chastise.
Returning to the present moment, even if I do it patiently and gracefully, seems like a neutral – if useful – act. By returning to practicing the presence of God, I am not only returning myself to this moment, I am returning to love and leaving myself behind.