We often expect instant results, instant happiness, instant awakening, as if our spirituality was like instant coffee, just add water and there it is. Or we seek to buy it, instead of making our own, instead of grinding our own coffee beans and making our own coffee. We don’t have the time, is often our excuse, we need to drink our coffee on the move, on the run. We are busy people, busy fools perhaps.
We also often expect other people to do the work for us. “Show us how it is done, show us how to be happy”, we ask, which really means “do it for us, make us happy, change the world so that we can be happy”. All we want is for someone else to make the effort, not too much to ask – surely.
In ‘The Practice of the Presence of God‘, Brother Lawrence clarifies that effort is required, “I worshiped Him as often as I could, keeping my mind focused on His holy presence. And I would bring my mind back to this focus every time I found it had wandered from Him. To be sure, I found no small pain in this practice. Yet, I continued it, despite all the difficulties that occurred” So, we should expect our efforts to cause ‘no small pain‘, but the rewards are not small either.
Anthony deMello, in his book “Awareness” instructs us that we have to practice his 4 Steps to Wisdom time and time again. Remember, he says, “Put this program into action a thousand times”. Let us think what that could mean, say ten times a day, that would be one hundred days, about three months. By then, if we did this practice, we would probably have developed the routine, we would be so used to doing it that it would no longer take much of an effort.
That’s what Brother Lawrence is saying too.
Richard Bach in “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” , describes how Jonathan wasn’t afraid to fail, and fail again, but he kept trying. “Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air is for them disgrace and it is dishonor. But Jonathan Livingston Seagull, unashamed, stretching his wings again in that trembling hard curve – slowing, slowing, and stalling once more – was not an ordinary bird”. So, we can expect to fail, and fail often. That does not mean that we should be afraid to try, afraid to make the effort.
Scott Peck goes further in “The Road Less Traveled”. In his opinion, “Ultimately, there is only the one impediment, and that is laziness”.
Scott Peck, too, has encountered the ‘show me how – do it for me’ brigade, “There are many who, by virtue of their passivity, dependency, fear and laziness, seek to be shown every inch of the way and have it demonstrated to them that each step will be safe and worth their while.”. This cannot work; he tells us “This cannot be done.” Cannot be done, even if someone wished to do it for you, wished to make the effort on your behalf, it would serve you not one jot. Each of us has to do it for ourselves.
Scott Peck comes to the conclusion, “No words can be said, no teaching can be taught that will relieve the spiritual travelers from the necessity of picking their own ways, working out with effort and anxiety their own paths through the unique circumstances of their own lives toward the identification of their individual selves with God”.
We have read all this before, we know it, we believe it, and yet. Yet we would take the easy path if we could.
We would always run downhill if we had the choice. Like skiing, we want lifts to bring us to the top, to bring us along the hard part of the journey so that we might enjoy the pleasure without the effort.
And awareness, spiritual development, takes time.
Brother Lawrence tells us, “That is how it all began. And yet I must tell you that for the first ten years I suffered much”
The ‘First Ten Years’! This is so at odds with the way we live our lives, with the way society conditions us. We must understand; everyday a small step. This is why running and walking can be spiritual experiences, can help us with our awakening. No matter how strongly you desire the race to be over, or the end of the trail to be reached, it does not happen until you make the necessary number of steps, one after another. You learn move through the pain, to clear you mind and to accept that, to enjoy it, to live it.
But at the end, there is satisfaction, joy. Brother Lawrence knows what awaits, “If I were a preacher, I would above all other things preach the practice of the presence of God. And if I were a spiritual director, I would advise all the world to practice it. That is how necessary I think it to be- and also how easy I know it to be”.
So, here we leave Brother Lawrence. We move on aware that a considerable journey awaits us.
Do not delay starting, my friends.