Is That a Tree or a Window to God?

Mary TeckYear of the Pilgrim

Reflections on The Presence of God

by Tracey Finck

“One winter’s day,” Brother Lawrence “saw a tree stripped of its leaves would appear anew, followed by flowers and fruit. He then received a lofty awareness of the providence and power of God which never left him”(Lawrence 14).

Brother Lawrence was a person who really lived the good life. He was surrounded by deep and steady peace, had confidence in God, felt joy in ongoing secret conversations with God, and had a fearless ability to face whatever happened knowing God was ordering all things well – these were his riches.

How did he receive these riches?

He received them by training his mind to attend to God. Like a doctor might put a child’s twisted foot in a brace to train it to grow straight and strong, Brother Lawrence braced his attention Godward again and again and again until it grew strong and steady in the right direction. Eventually the things and tasks around him became almost transparent. They transformed into variously shaped windows through which he saw new aspects of God at work in the world, “In all that he saw and in all that happened, he lifted his thoughts immediately, passing from the creature to the Creator” (Lawrence 143).

What would it cost one to acquire this habit? A habit can be acquired easily, but not quickly. Anyone can do it, but it takes intentions, effort, and commitment over a long period of time. In this case, the dividends are more than worth the investment. Brother Lawrence said:

As time and much labor are necessary to acquire this practice, we must not be discouraged when we fail in it, because the habit is formed only with difficulty; but when it is formed, everything we do we will do with pleasure (Lawrence 134).

How would one begin this practice?

It would not be out of place for those who are beginning this practice to inwardly form a few words. We could say, “My God, I am entirely yours,”… or some other words which that love produces spontaneously (Lawrence 135).

As I read this paragraph, the song “This Good Day” by Fernando Ortega sprang to my mind. From this it occurred to me that I could use worship songs and hymns as prompts to stay attentive to God, because it’s so easy to get a tune stuck in my head.

In fact, what could be easier than calling a song to mind? Yet worthless songs and worthless thoughts are just as likely to lodge themselves in my brain. I must intentionally select my playlist as I go about my day, providing lifelines for myself as reminders to turn my attention to the source of my strength.

I’m helped by Orgeta’s lyrics, “This good day, it is a gift from you.” Repeating these words stops my default way of thinking, which is not to interpret either the mundane or the surprising aspects of the day as gifts from God or windows to God. If I saw the tree that sparked Brother Lawrence’s epiphany about God’s redemptive power, I might have simply seen a depressing, dead-looking, bare tree. But I want to live more fully, to stretch my capacity, and to enjoy more of God in everything around me. Ortega’s beautiful song lifts my heart and my vision in a way that helps me interpret the everyday and ordinary as windows to God.

In addition to music, we can also be helped by reading good books. Bother Lawrence said, “Practicing the presence of God… can be accomplished either through the imagination or by the understanding” (Lawrence 8). Although Brother Lawrence admitted that he didn’t find help in books, I actually do find that reading stretches both my imagination and my understanding. Reading provides practice in perceiving metaphors, which is often one way that God communicates to us. Malcolm Muggeridge observed that, “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message. ” Reading other people’s stories trains my mind to see how God works in human affair, attunes my senses to metaphors, and helps me see the meaning woven in a around the mundane.

Reading the story of Brother Lawrence caused me to take a second look at my familiar world and wonder: What could I see if I really looked?

Are these just chores, or are they opportunities to do something for the love of God?

Is that just an interruption in my day, or is God rearranging things?

Is this an ordinary conversation or a divine appointment?

Tracey Finck is author of the book “Love Letters to a Child”. Her website is www.TraceyFinck.com

This piece was originally published in the ‘Year of the Mother’ Journal.