In this session we look at the idea and process of practising the presence of God. Amy Boucher Pye interviews James Catford about his experiences.
James Catford had a career in commercial publishing before leading Bible Society for fourteen years. He now serves as Chair of SPCK and also the US renewal ministry Renovaré, founded by Richard Foster. He is a consultant to American Bible Society, a columnist for the magazine Preach, and lives with his wife Sue in London.
Historically many people believed that we should keep our spiritual life separate from the other parts of our lives. But now many understand that we can incorporate spirituality into all aspects of our lives; we’re not thinking of where our humanness ends and our spiritual being begins. Instead, we seek to live in an intimate relationship with God. After all, God wants to be as close to us as the air we breathe.
In terms of practising being in God’s presence, we can go back to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. Jesus’ first words are recorded in Mark 1:15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” He announced that the kingdom of God is here and now – we can be present in it today.
Practising the presence only involves a willingness on our part. We say to God, I’m here, I know you love me, and I invite you to come. As we pray this way we’re watching, waiting, being still and noticing what God is saying. The Spirit draws near, and we grow in our faith. Sometimes, however, as James alludes to, this can be in an ‘unknowing’ of things we have learnt in the past as God leads us into the fullness of his truth.
As an exercise, practise breathing, mindful of God’s presence: Inhale deeply and slowly; then exhale deeply and fully. Breathe in Jesus, the Spirit and God the Father. Remind yourself that you are a physical being who is grounded on the earth.
As we read in chapter three of 7 Ways to Pray:
…God became a man in the form of his Son, Jesus. In the last words of the Gospel of Matthew, he told his disciples: ‘Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ From the beginning of God’s Word, when he was in the Garden of Eden with our first parents, to John’s Revelation, where God promises to welcome his people into the Eternal City, he assures us of his never-ending presence with us.
If God is everywhere, are we aware of him? Or do we take this truth for granted? When we practice being mindful and aware of him, we open ourselves to the wonder of him and his creation. We can experience his presence when we’re living in the present moment, right here, right now. Instead of being preoccupied with things that might not even happen, we affirm that God is with us.
In this video, James takes us through a practical exercise of how we can be in God’s presence.
Either take some time to work through the practice individually and then reconvene as a group or engage in one of the exercises 7 Ways to Pray. We recommend either the exercise on page 47 and following about Jesus being the Vine and we the branches or the practice starting on page 59, ‘Christ’s Presence in our Present’. Share how the experience was for you – how did God meet you? How did you respond? What surprised you? Receive the offerings in an attitude of welcome.
This week, practise being in God’s presence. Notice that you’re breathing in air that God has given to you. Try sitting in God’s presence and being still.
James recommends these versions of The Cloud of Unknowing: