As part of our year with St. Francis de Sales, I wanted to excerpt the section from Introduction to the Devout Life where he offers four practical tips for putting yourself in God’s presence. This is an extremely important first step of prayer, he explains, since all too often we pray as if God were off in the far distance somewhere. With Lent approaching, I thought this might be a good section to cover since many of us are thinking about how we can improve our prayer lives. (All the text below is directly quoted from the book.)
St. Francis de Sales’ four steps for putting yourself in the presence of God
1. [Cultivate] a lively, attentive realization of God’s absolute presence, that is, that God is in all things and all places. There is no place or thing in this world where he in not truly present…Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being told of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and haven forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him. Unfortunately, Philothea, we do not see God who is present with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, because we do not see him with our eyes we often forget about him and behave as if God were far distance from us…This is why before praying we must always arouse our souls to explicit thought and consideration of God’s presence…When you prepare to pray you must say with your whole heart and in your heart, “O my heart, my heart, God is truly here!”
2. Remember that God is not only in the place where you are but also that he is present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. He enlivens and animates it by his divine presence, for he is there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body but resides in a special manner in the heart, so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in our spirit. For this reason David calls him “the God of his heart,” and St. Paul says that “we live, and move, and are in God.” Therefore in consideration of this truth excite in your heart great reverence toward God who is so intimately present in us.
3. Consider how our Savior in his humanity gazes down from heaven on all mankind and particularly on Christians, who are his children, and most especially on those who are at prayer, whose actions and conduct he observes. This is by no means a mere figment of the imagination but the very truth. Although we do not see him, it remains true that from on high he beholds us.
4. The fourth method consists in the use of simple imagination when we represent to ourselves the Savior in his sacred humanity as if he were near us, just as we sometimes imagine a friend to be present and say, “I imagine that I see such a one who is doing this or that,” or “I seem to see him” or something similar. If the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is present, the Christ’s presence is real and not purely imaginary. The species and appearance of bread and like a tapestry behind which our Lord is really present and sees and observes us, although we do not see him in his own form.
Do not use [these techniques] all at once, but only one at a time and that briefly and simply.
I am definitely guilty of praying as if God were “out there” somewhere. I think that putting these suggestions will really help me gain more intimacy with the Lord in my prayer life. I hope it’s the same for you!