A lot of people mistakenly separate their spiritual life from their everyday life.
That is, they see their relationship with God — however they define God — as something they experience in a certain holy space on a given holy day.
For instance, in my own faith tradition, some Christians appear to think religion is what they practice in church on Sundays.
And that’s true as far as it goes. I also worship God every Sunday in a particular church building. I believe that’s a good thing to do. Nothing wrong with that.
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But for some churchgoers, once they leave their sanctuary, they’re pretty much on their own the other six days; whatever’s outside the church’s doors is secular and disconnected from their faith.
For them, there’s also holy work (being a preacher, deacon or nun) and there’s secular work (being an accountant, truck driver or schoolteacher). There are religious actions (singing hymns, studying the Bible, serving communion) and there are secular actions (cutting the grass, cooking dinner, cleaning the toilet).
However, whether you’re Christian or Buddhist or an independent seeker, the most effective spirituality tends to be one that assumes God’s presence in all vocations and in all moments and in all places, the explicitly religious and the apparently secular alike.
In this kind of spirituality, God is present in everything we do, everywhere, all the time. There is no “secular.” Everything is holy.
Among the masters of this approach was Brother Lawrence.
In the 1600s, Lawrence, a former soldier, became a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in France. Over the years, his assigned duties, for which he felt temperamentally and physically unsuited, included working in the kitchen and traveling to purchase the monastery’s wine (crippled, he found the journey arduous and considered himself a poor negotiator besides).
Despite his lowly responsibilities, and his feelings toward them, he became renowned for his infectious joy and inner peace. Many sought his counsel.
After Lawrence died, Abbe Joseph de Beaufort compiled interviews he’d conducted with Lawrence and Lawrence’s letters into a slim volume called, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” which is now considered a spiritual classic.
The key to Lawrence’s great equilibrium was that he’d learned to sense God in every task great and small. Because God loved him, and he loved God in return, he considered all his daily acts — secular or religious, pleasant or unpleasant — expressions of worship and gratitude.
Thus “he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking him only, and nothing else,” the abbe remembered.
If this sounds hopelessly pious and high-minded when compared to how the rest of us live, I don’t think it was.
In “The Practice of the Presence of God,” Lawrence doesn’t come across to me as a saintly, long-suffering ascetic, but instead as earthy and candid and self-effacing.
As he tried to shake various vices, for instance, he seemed not to lean nearly so much toward self-flagellation as toward self-acceptance.
He preferred to tell the Lord something along the lines of (my paraphrase), We both know I’ve got this bad habit, and I won’t insult you by promising not to do it again, because I certainly will do it again; that’s who I am. If you want me to change, you need to intervene on my behalf. It’s up to you. Then he’d go on about his business.
Someone else I read recently — I think it was the Catholic author Richard Rohr — said God is not elsewhere and heaven is not later.
That’s exactly the point Lawrence was making. If we recognize the presence of the divine, if we become mindful he’s everywhere with us, then every moment of our day and every act we perform, no matter how mundane, can become infused with enlightenment and meaning.
Toiling late on a project at work. Changing a diaper. Shopping for lightbulbs. Driving to the office during rush hour. Washing another load of towels. Coaching a little league game. Watching a movie.
All things begin to shimmer as we perceive God’s presence in them.
They become acts of gratitude toward a loving Lord who is there, in the moment, with us. Always.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.