Union with God: Practice is the Key
When attempting to grow into union with God, the key word used by great spiritual writers is “practice”—as in practicing the presence of God. There are two aspects to the word “practice” which bear upon this fundamental goal in life.
The primary meaning of “practicing the presence of God” is that it should be our habitual mode of operation to do everything throughout the day with an awareness of God’s presence. But for anyone who has tried to do this, it will come as no surprise that it also takes “practice” in a common secondary sense: We need to work at it again and again to get it right.
I’ve been reminded of this many times in the last week alone: Writing an entire column without inquiring about the topic with Our Lord; jumping into my day without prayerfully considering my priorities; getting lost in a deadline-driven task; failing to come up now and then for spiritual air; forgetting little prayers for those encountered along the way; getting annoyed without immediately counting my blessings; thinking about future plans without thinking about God at the same time.
The appropriate response to all this is indeed practice. We need to ground the day in a special time set aside for prayer, and then we need to remind ourselves again and again to lift our minds and hearts to God throughout the day, considering everything in the light of His Providence. Sometimes we need to establish little tricks to jog our memories, such as setting an alarm every hour or deliberately and arbitrarily associating prayer with certain actions like entering a room or getting up from a chair.
Practice, practice, and more practice. In the beginning it seems that the only times we think of God are when we’re doing actual practice drills, either setting down our goals or responding to one of our alarms. Again and again we find ourselves at the end of a busy day with scarcely a thought of God. But little by little, the failure to think of God regularly becomes the exception rather than the rule. Still, even when progress is good, few of us become so recollected that there are never exceptions, and most of us backslide if we don’t occasionally become self-conscious about the need for practice.
This is how habits are formed and, once formed, how they are maintained and deepened. In the present case, the ultimate deepening of the habit of God’s presence is to be always perfectly conformed to His will. Now there’s a goal that will put things in perspective. It shows us why, in the spiritual life, there is simply no substitute for practice.
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