I recall seeing a cartoon several years ago depicting a young boy earnestly peering into the hospital crib of his baby brother who had only just been delivered.
“Quick, tell me, before you forget,” he said desperately, “What does God look like!”
It is an image that came to mind when I recently came across a copy of The Practice of the Presence of God, a compilation of the letters and conversations of Brother Lawrence, a lay 17th Century French Carmelite.
This unassuming and uneducated man endeavoured to make every moment of his life an opportunity to become more intimate with his Creator.
I related the two only by the extremes of human existence that they portray – the opposing notions of a life spent moving away from God and one spent drawing closer to Him.
The cartoon implies that once our spirit becomes embodied, our perception of God dims throughout our lifetime, whereas the message of this simple Brother, who spent his last 50 years behind Priory walls as a kitchen hand and sandal repairer, suggests that we can draw closer to God in every circumstance, whether it be in joy or suffering.
Can they both be right? I believe they can and are. We are living in a culture where more and more people can identify with the cartoon, where they can no longer recognise God within the context of their own lives.
They are frantically searching for a deeper meaning, but with the plethora of opportunity that society offers, God has become lost in the mayhem.
The pursuit of self-gratification that is being blatantly promoted reduces Him to just another option on the smorgasbord table.
This focus on self steers one away from the truth and simplicity that was embraced by Brother Lawrence who first recognised God’s great love and abundance while gazing at a barren tree during the depths of winter. He was infused with the understanding of God’s unfailing grace and providence. Just as life still abided in this tree, so too did God continually abide in him, no matter the circumstance.
From that point on he endeavoured to engage in perpetual conversation with God.
Such personal intimacy allowed every detail of his life to become a moment of extraordinary value.
Whether he was on his knees in worship, being criticised by others or simply cooking a cake, he was able to offer them in love to his Heavenly Father.
Despite the multitude of choices that this world has to offer, in essence, there are only two. Every single moment in our lives, no matter how mundane or trivial, provides us with an opportunity to either draw closer or drift further from God. Brother Lawrence chose to weave every aspect of his life into this relationship. It was a choice that ensured that his image of God did not fade over his lifetime but became clearer with each moment. Initially it was not an easy task, he had admitted, and had taken years of disciplining his mind, actively recalling it whenever it wandered. “This proved to be an exercise frequently painful,” he once said, “Yet I persisted through all difficulties.”
Eventually he understood that everything he received was from God and therefore everything he gave was a gift in return. It was a relationship of mutual love that transcended any emotional or physical reality. God was not a part of his life. God was his life.
It is a path that each of us has the option to walk, but it is one that we must consciously choose.
If we opt to follow our natural propensity to self-gratify or allow ourselves to become lost in the business of life and its false promises, then our relationship with God will inevitably wither.
If we choose, however, to abide in Him, then He has made a promise to us that He too, will abide in us.