Articles - Deb > Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes
Practicing the Presence of God for Practical Purposes
by Deb Whitehouse, Ed.D.
Earl Nightingale, the late great radio personality, once made a record that sold over a million copies, quite a feat at the time. Its title was "The Strangest Secret," and it changed lives. The secret is, "We become what we think about all day long," and what is strange about it is that it is a secret. The New Thought movement is dedicated to teaching people how to govern what they think about, how to achieve their own health, wealth, and happiness in a way that helps everybody else in the process. This involves co-creation with the source of all the novelty in the world, commonly known as God.
Our favorite definition of New Thought is the practice of the presence of God for practical purposes. We are, of course, riding on the metaphorical coattails of Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century monk who did everything to the glory of God right down to washing pots and pans, and who made his entire life one giant prayer by talking to God all day long as he worked. He called his approach "the practice of the Presence of God." We add "for practical purposes" because an important part of spirituality is balance between the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life; and because in an abundant universe, all of us are entitled to all the abundance that we can develop the consciousness to attract.
The Brother Lawrence kind of practice has been defined as "a nontrivial activity undertaken on a regular basis primarily for its own sake," in contrast to practice undertaken in order to gain something else, such as getting to Carnegie Hall. Practice for its own sake is done until it becomes a part of you, and then it becomes transformative. Brother Lawrence said that when, after years of misery and difficulty, he discovered and committed himself to his practice, his life became incredibly easy and full of joy and peace. Today we have knowledge of the way the mind works that was unavailable to Brother Lawrence. Also, philosophers and theologians have given us a greater understanding of how God works and how we can work with God. They have supplied us with an updated understanding of what the universe is really like, taking into account the discoveries of contemporary physics. By mastering the complexities of today's world, we become capable of living longer and healthier lives, surrounded by material comforts while protecting the environment, and relating harmoniously with each other in ways that ensure that everybody wins. Brother Lawrence could scarcely have dreamed of what has become possible for us today.
Let's take a closer look at practice, the presence of God, and some of our most important practical purposes.
To develop our practice of the presence of God for practical purposes, we must first determine what that practice will consist of. Since we become what we think about habitually, our practice will involve ways of shepherding our thoughts, mental activities that we repeat deliberately until they become second nature. These will teach us to habitually turn our attention towards what we want and away from what we don't want. New Thought minister Emmet Fox once gave a pair of lectures at Unity School of Christianity that were subsequently published as a booklet, The Mental Equivalent. Fox observed, "The aim of the metaphysical movement is to teach the practice of the presence of God. We practice the presence of God by seeing Him everywhere, in all things and in all people, despite appearances to the contrary." To see the presence of God is to see love, intelligence, health, peace, power, and beauty where others might see only difficulties. To do this, we must ride herd on our stray thoughts, and keep them from wandering into fear or anger or discouragement. This mental discipline is one of the most difficult things we will ever do, yet it gives greater rewards than anything else we could ever undertake.
Mental equivalent is a term Fox says he borrowed from physics and chemistry (he was an electrical engineer before going into the ministry). In Fox's words, "The secret of successful living is to build up the mental equivalent that you want; and to get rid of, to expunge, the mental equivalent that you do not want. . . . How do you do it? You build in the mental equivalents by thinking quietly, constantly, and persistently of the kind of thing you want, and by thinking that has two qualities: clarity or definiteness, and interest." So we need to make clarity and interest habitual.
We achieve clarity by visualizing what we want daily until the vision is clear. We get interested in what we are visualizing by learning all we can about it, and what impediments there may be between where we are and where we want to be. Then we use our creativity to get past the impediments. We develop skills, gather knowledge, and perform the necessary activities until our vision becomes a reality.
Our practice will involve some sort of daily quiet time, when we allow our sense of God's presence to well up within us. It will also involve some type of exercise for the body and for the mind. And it will involve working with other people by seeking first to understand, then to be understood, ensuring that everyone wins in every transaction, and seeking to synergize ideas and abilities into something better than either side could have come up with alone, as Stephen Covey puts it in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We will need to determine which specific practices are best for us. It is not enough just to agree intellectually that practice is a good idea. We must walk our talk.
The Presence of God
In order to find the courage to persevere with our practice in the face of the difficulties that inevitably arise in any life, we need an understanding of the nature of God and of the universe, which is God's body. Then we can develop our relationship with God as we would with a loving and wise parent, a Senior Partner to whom we regularly turn for advice, comfort, and encouragement. God loves us and wants only our highest good. As author Emilie Cady puts it, "Desire in the heart is always God tapping at the door of your consciousness with His infinite supply." Because God is good, God's universe is also good and abundant, and God wants us to have life and have it abundantly.
Physicists tell us that the universe is not static substance, as it appears to be, but dynamic, ever changing, existing as momentary bursts of energy that they call quanta. Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead calls these quanta occasions of experience, and concludes that they are all living, not lifeless matter/energy. Aggregations of these experiences form you and me and everything that exists, and continue to do so moment by moment in ongoing bursts of living energy. In each experience God is present, offering perfect possibilities tailor-made for that experience at that moment, constantly revised to meet changing circumstances. We are literally new every moment, with a new opportunity to make a fresh start. We have free will, and can decide how much of God's possibilities to accept and how much of the pattern of the past to continue, so at each moment we are blending the past with the possible. We choose, each moment, and all our choices are carrying us in some direction. If we accept God's loving and wise guidance, it will be in the direction of our highest good.
With all of us choosing, there are inevitably conflicts between choosers, and even between our own choices, in some cases. Still, God is always working to mitigate things that go wrong, orchestrating events by offering possibilities in ways that lead toward greater good. God is the source of the principles that are universally recognized as wise and good ways to live. Under God's guidance, the physical laws—habits of interaction—evolved to constitute a neutral environment in which to exercise our free will, a level playing field. So we have God's unconditional love balanced by the benefits of working in accordance with the habitforces of the universe or the consequences of breaking them. We are punished by our sins, not for them, and we are free in the next moment to accept God's loving guidance and not make the same mistakes.
So we have problems, which are opportunities in disguise, and we have to use our practice to keep centered on God and on what we want, knowing that we can influence events by the power of our focused thoughts, the power to co-create consciously with God.
How do we apply this overall practice to specific ways of building health, wealth, and happiness? It has been said that the tendency of the subconscious is lifeward: healing tends to take place if we get ourselves out of the way. Getting out of the way consists of not thinking negative thoughts that depress our immune system, not eating foods that are inappropriate for our particular metabolism or have had the nutrients refined out of them. To achieve wellness, we need to work in accordance with the physical laws by eating nutritious food and drinking plenty of water, by exercising our body in ways appropriate for that particular body, and by maintaining a balance of work and play, rest and activity. In case of illness, our daily visualization needs to include wellness, and our daily practice needs to add wise and well-researched healing methods that assist the lifeward tendency. One of the best healing methods is the form of prayer known as treatment: seeing God in place of the illness. Illness can be a great teacher, and we can ask God's guidance in learning its lesson so we don't have to repeat it.
Wealth, as well as all else, involves understanding that "it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32), that there is plenty for all, and that all deserve to prosper. At the same time, we can be good stewards of the environment, knowing that God gives the increase if we do our part. Our practice for wealth includes learning about money and how it works, managing properly whatever money we have at present, regarding wealth and the wealthy in a positive way, expecting to prosper, and visualizing ourselves and others as prospering. God wants us to do what we love and to prosper by doing it, so with the help of God's wisdom, we can find a need and fill it as a means of gaining wealth.
Doing what we love, or even visualizing and planning to be able to do what we love at some future date, helps ensure happiness. Happiness is a state of enhanced satisfaction. If we are using our talents to fill others' needs by doing what we love, we will be well on our way to a satisfying life. We can seek to understand and to have win-win relationships with those we love. And we can become very clear about what we want, visualize it, and work with interest to attain it. Success can be defined as achieving what you set out to do.
What about sin and evil, earthquakes and tidal waves? With God's guidance, you won't be there when the earthquake hits, or its effects will be mitigated in some way. Sin, or missing the mark, is inevitable where there is free will. If we were incapable of sin, we would be robots. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and not use them as an excuse to give up. Evil is the absence of good, or its misdirection. After noting the evil, we can turn our attention back to the good. And we can know that even in the darkest circumstances, God is there, working with us, when we practice the presence of God for practical purposes.