The History of the Discipline of Living in the Presence of God

The early church (in the tradition of John), the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Celts in Scotland and Ireland, the Desert Fathers (5th Century), Brother Lawrence in the 1600’s and since that time literally millions of Christians worldwide have embraced and practiced the spiritual discipline of living in the presence of God.

“The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims” by Brother Lawrence can be the beginning point for a study of living in the presence of God. I came upon this book recently. Another recently acquired book is “Listening for the Heartbeat of God: a Celtic Spirituality” by J. Philip Newell. From this book, I came to understand the ancient origins of this tradition and the history of why this tradition was quashed during the early years of the church. Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God” speaks of developing a “Conversational Relationship With God”, a concept that is based upon “Living in the Presence of God.”

For me, Henri Nouwen is the person who, by his writings, led me in the journey to living in the presence of God. His books I would especially recommend (in no special order) are: “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming,” “The Genesee Diary,” “Here and Now: Living in the Spirit,” “The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry,”  “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World,”  “Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life,” and “Spiritual Direction” by Henri Nouwen with Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird.

As I was reading Robert Ellsberg’s book “The Saints’ Guide
to Happiness”, I read of St. Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897).  I wrote in the margin of the book these words: “She has taken Brother Lawrence’s ‘Living in the presence of God’ to the ultimate—‘living in the presence of the LOVE of God.’” I immediately had one of those “ah-hah!” moments: a time when, for a moment, everything comes together and for a moment it all makes sense. I realized that even through my mother’s death and increased family responsibilities, I was doing well—very well in fact. When I read the Psalms, I did not relate to those expressing fear and longing for God’s faithful presence—for I knew where God was—right here with me—inside me, surrounding me—and everywhere I turned in my life! Through the eyes of faith, I saw God’s loving presence in the people and the places and all of the times of my life!  Even though my mind raced with fears and worries from 3 am to 5 am, during the day when I could see the beauty of God’s world—and experience the love of God’s people—and the wonderful life I have been given and the opportunities I have to respond in faith—my soul was filled with hope—knew joy—and marveled that I was (and am) so very blessed by our loving God. And so, it became clear that I needed to emphasize that it is living in the presence of the LOVE of God and being mindful of God’s love that is the real blessing to be shared!

Until now, the most important theological development in my life was Brother Lawrence’s concept of living in the presence of God. I have come to know that it is not the discipline of living in the presence of God—but the GIFT of living in the presence of the LOVE of God that I have actually been experiencing—and have the opportunity to reflect, better understand, and share!  The small group study project has become this website.