Sunday, May 25, 2008

practising the presence of people

I read a great article last week about "practising the presence of people." It was an interesting twist on the 17th century Christian classic, Practising the Presence of God.

In the classic, Brother Lawrence (a monk) encourages his readers to practice being in the presence of the Almighty at all times. To do everything, no matter how menial or distasteful, as though doing it for the Master. Brother Lawrence recommended cultivating a constant state of prayer, where one would be aware of the Lord's presence throughout the day.

It's an awesome read and has influenced my life greatly.

The article (sorry, I did so much reading last week that I can't remember who the author is--or even where I read it) challenges the readersto practice the presence of people. He defines this as being fully present and aware when you are with another person. To be praying for him or her as you listen, asking the Lord to use you to bless that person's life. It does not mean thinking about what you're going to say next or what appointments this encounter might make you late for--but to be totally engaged in that moment with the person the Lord has put in your path.

My mind can be a million other places during the course of a typical conversation, so I asked the Lord to help me practice the presence of people. The first day of this experiment was a total failure, but I just kept praying for His help . . .

Then yesterday, it happened! I was tasting wine at the New Season's Market near our house and got into the most interesting conversation with the wine steward. We chatted about the pleasing characteristics of the chardonnay I sipped for a few minutes, but then the conversation turned more personal.

Penny suddenly opened up and began to tell me how difficult her life had been the past few years. She'd moved to Oregon with her partner, daughter and grand-daughter to try to make a new start for the family, but her boyfriend had deserted them and headed back to sunny California the previous year. She struggles with loneliness, depression and finances.

"It's really hard to find steady work up here," Penny confided. "I'm nearly 60, so I'm pretty sure it's my age."

She told me she's headed down to the wine country in California next week to look for work. She seemed a bit anxious about the trip. Maybe it was the part about meeting up with her ex-boyfriend for a few days . . .

"I will pray for you," I said. Penny looked startled for a minute, then flashed a beautiful smile.

"Thank you," she replied gratefully. She actually hugged me before turning her attention to the next wine-sipping customer. As we walked away, my daughter Lindsay said: "Mom, you are the only person in the world who can get into such a deep conversation with a wine steward!"

Not true, my darling. Anyone who determines to "practice the presence of people" and invites God to be part of the process should have similar encounters on a regular basis.

I suppose it just takes a little practice . . .