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Practicing the Presence of God (While Mowing the Lawn)

19 Jun

IMAG1717“Seek the LORD and his strength, seek his presence continually.” – 1 Chronicles 16:11 (NRSV)

OK, I’ll admit it: I actually kind of enjoy mowing the lawn!

Actually, my enjoyment of the task makes little or no difference; the job has to be done, and often.  The grass in our yard, especially this time of year, seems to grow at an alarming rate; and so in order not to be overrun with your garden variety New Hampshire flora and fauna, most Mondays you’ll find the lawnmower and me pacing back and forth across the plot of land that surrounds the parsonage (which, if you’re to believe the pedometer I’ve been wearing as of late, constitutes a total distance of over two miles; not bad for a relatively small yard).  I can also tell you that at this writing, I’ve already cut the grass six different times in all manner of weather, often fighting against encroaching darkness, and usually amongst swarms of blackflies; which is to say, the job’s not always an easy one.

But, like I said before, I enjoy it. There is, after all, a simple, biblical pleasure to be found in “mak[ing] the rough places smooth” (Isaiah 42:16); that is, working to make the yard neat and trim, if only temporarily. Moreover, I get to soak in the sunshine as it filters through the maples that surround the property and breathe in the unmistakable aroma of freshly mown grass; a glorious reminder that though it occasionally takes its dear sweet time in getting here, God’s order of creation will prevail and summer is coming to New England!  Most of all, however, over the years I’ve found that time spent mowing is also for me prime time to think, reflect and, after a fashion, to pray.

Often I think about what I’ve managed to accomplish that day while creating a mental checklist of what else needs to be done before supper! And sometimes I think about church (yes, even on days off… it’s an occupational hazard, I know…); I’ll mull over the text for next Sunday’s sermon, consider things I’d love to see happen in and through the life of this congregation, and reflect on the joys and challenges of this ministry we share. But I also think a lot about my family: of the many blessings Lisa and I have known through the years; of the amazing ways our children’s’ lives are now starting to unfold now that they are grown; and of the many possibilities that exist for us all as inevitably the future approaches.  And in and through all of these fleeting thoughts, lingering questions and moments of thanksgiving, I find myself thinking about God: all to the whirring accompaniment of the mower engine.

About four hundred years ago, there lived a Catholic monk by the name of Brother Lawrence, who lived and worked as a cook in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. Born Nicholas Herman, Brother Lawrence is well-remembered for his thoughts on living a life of intimacy with God, a spiritual discipline that was developed over countless hours spent in the kitchen preparing meals for the other brothers in the order.  It is said that all throughout the day, Brother Lawrence would purposely and purposefully speak aloud to God about all that was happening around him:  the events of his day-to-day life and his work at the monastery and the joy he found in his calling to the monastic life, as well as the concerns that troubled him deeply.  He referred to this discipline as “Practicing the Presence of God,” believing that in order to know God better, one needed to envision God’s presence wherever one happens to be, or in the midst of whatever one is doing in the business of life and living.  Brother Lawrence taught that when we are aware of God’s presence with us all through the day, in that knowledge we can actually be praying at all times and in many ways.

That we all could adopt such a practice as our own!  So often we succumb to the notion that God only lives in that white clapboard church where we go to visit him once a week on Sunday morning! Not to discount God’s presence in our worship (for that is profoundly true and real, again and again!), but still, how many times do we fail to acknowledge that God, in fact, bursts forth from the doors of sanctuaries and can be found sitting at our kitchen tables or at the boardroom; standing with us on the sidelines at a grandchild’s soccer game or joining us in the laughter and tears of a wedding or funeral service; or marveling right along with us in the utter masterpiece of a summer sunset at the lake?

What would happen if in every matter of our life and living – the sum and substance of our joy and sorrows – we were to walk and act as though God were there beside us the whole way, which God, in truth, is.  If we were to practice that presence, chances are we’d see all things in a new light; that words spoken and decisions made would come about a whole lot less casually; that even the smallest moments of joy and insight would be savored rather than tossed aside in pursuit of what’s coming next.  No longer would we go through our days as though we were all alone in the world, but life would be lived in relationship with the Divine.

Life – all of life – would be lived in “the act and attitude” of prayer and worship.

I know… that kind of discipline may seem a tall order when there’s still weed whacking to be done, supper to be started and dishes still in the sink.  But it does seem as good a place as any to start…

…and, of course, God’s already there, waiting.

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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