Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

How to Abide – Br. David Vryhof

“Abide in me as I abide in you.” John 15:4

In these few words Jesus reveals the secret of the abundant life he is bringing into the world and which he offers to each of his disciples. This is the secret not only to our own happiness and fulfillment, but also to our fruitfulness, our ability to positively influence others by bringing them to share in the Divine Life. This is the abundant life he is offering us, a life lived in union with the Triune God, a life of untold blessings and riches, far beyond any abundance that the world can offer us.

When we pause to think of how desperately people in our world seek for happiness and of the ends to which they are willing to go to find personal fulfillment, we can wonder that such a simple path has been outlined for us.  “Abide in me as I abide in you,” says Jesus. “Join your life to mine, and my life will be yours.” All that I am and have I give to Jesus, and all that he is and has he gives to me. And in this union there is joy and safety and happiness and riches beyond measure. “I came that [you] might have life,” he reminds us, “and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10)

Why is it, then, that we do not always experience this abundant life?  Perhaps it is because we do not know how to abide, how to live in union with him, so that his life becomes our life, his strength our strength, his love our love.  To this I say that this is something we can learn and one of the best ways to learn it is to study the lives of those who have gone before us, men and women who have learned this secret and taught it to others.  There are two figures who have been most helpful to me in learning to practice the skill of abiding in union with God.  Both of them offer very practical guidance for how we can remain connected to God in everyday life.

The first is Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a 17th century Carmelite monk and mystic, who practiced the presence of God in everything he did.  His way was very simple: he turned everything into prayer by simply talking to God as he went about his tasks. He made it his habit to begin each task with prayer, asking for God’s grace that, while his mind was occupied with outward things, he might continue in God’s presence. As he worked, he stayed as much as possible in conversation with God, and when the task was completed, he examined himself on how he had remained faithful. If he did well, he thanked God; if poorly, he asked God’s pardon and, without giving way to discouragement, went on in the presence of God.

Brother Lawrence made no distinction between times of activity and times of prayer, claiming that he possessed God as peacefully in the commotion of his kitchen, where often several people were asking him for different things at the same time, as he did in the chapel when kneeling in prayer before the Sacrament.“We do not always have to be in church to be with God,” he said. “We can make of our hearts an oratory where we can withdraw from time to time to converse with him there, gently, humbly, and lovingly. Everyone is capable of these familiar conversations with God.”

He did everything for the love of God. It made no difference to him what he did, provided he did it for God. “In the ways of God…love counts for everything,” he said. “And [so] it is not necessary to have important things to do.”“I flip my little omelette in the frying pan for the love of God, and when it is done, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the floor and adore my God who gave me the grace to do it, after which I get up happier than a king.  When I can do nothing else, it is enough for me to pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

The result of this practice was a life of great joy, and of deep and abiding contentment.  He found God everywhere and in everything, and so he was content in any place and with any task. “There is no way of life in the world more agreeable or delightful than continual conversation with God.  Only those who practice and experience it can understand this.”

The second figure is Thomas Kelly, a Quaker educator and mystic who wrote in the first half of the 20th century. In his book, A Testament of Devotion, first published in 1941, he revealed the secret of his own spiritual practice, which was to abide in union with Christ as he went about his daily tasks: “There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once,” he wrote. “On one level, we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathing.”

“The secular world values and cultivates the first level,” Kelly said, “assuming that there is where the real business of humankind is done. It scorns, or smiles in tolerant amusement, at the cultivation of the second level…  But in a deeply religious culture [people] know that the deep level of prayer and of divine assistance is the most important thing in the world.  It is at this deep level that the real business of life is determined.”

Kelly warned that it may require months or even years of persistent effort to train ourselves to stay focused on God at this deeper level of being while carrying on our everyday tasks. In the early weeks, he said, we begin with simple, whispered prayers, expressing our desire to abide in God’s presence and to do everything for God’s glory. We might, for example, gently repeat a word or phrase taken from the psalms, such as “For God alone” or “My soul longs for you, O God,” as often as we think of it during the day. The conscious cooperation of the surface level is needed at first, before prayer sinks into the second, deeper level and we become more habitually oriented towards God. Later, the time comes when verbalization is not as necessary, when we learn to maintain this inner attentiveness with wordless glances and quiet breathing of invitation and self-offering.

“Practice comes first in religion, not theory or dogma,” Kelly taught. “A practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into the inner sanctuary…”  This practice of inward orientation was not for ‘special souls,’ Kelly insisted; rather, it was “the heart of religion.” And it was the secret of the inner life of Jesus himself, who lived in constant communication and dependence on the One he knew as “Father.”

Our own Rule of Life1 adds further insight into how prayer can permeate the whole of our life.  In Chapter 22, “Prayer and Life,” we are reminded of the gifts “which help us to pray without ceasing”:

“The Spirit offers us the gift of attentiveness by which we discern signs of God’s presence and action in creation, in other people and in the fabric of ordinary existence.”

There is the gift of “spiritual freedom by which we surrender fretfulness and anxiety in order to be available to God in the present moment.”

“There is the gift of spontaneity, which gives rise to frequent brief prayers throughout the day in which we look to Christ and express our faith, hope and love.”

And “there is the gift of prompt repentance, which encourages us to turn to God and ask for forgiveness the instant we become aware of a fall.”

“Through these and other like gifts,” the Rule reminds us, “prayer comes to permeate our life and transfigure our mundane routines.”

“Abide in me as I abide in you.”  This is the secret Jesus gives us, the secret of our own fulfillment and happiness, and the secret of fruitfulness in life.  Learn this secret.  Practice it every day.  Cultivate a life of constant communion with God.  Live in his Presence.  You will find it to be a way that leads to peace and contentment, to joy and delight.  There is no greater treasure in all of life than to abide in union with God.

 

1 The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (Cowley Publications, 1997)

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Support SSJE

Please support the Brothers work.

[Form]

19 Comments

  1. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas on February 2, 2017 at 18:53

    This inspired sermon was delivered nearly five years ago, but it speaks to my heart today with great freshness and power. In these precarious and turbulent times, I too am finding deep (and surprising) solace in abiding in Christ. Thank you, Br. David, for preaching the Word. I know that I will be returning to this sermon in the days ahead.

  2. Margaret Dungan on February 2, 2017 at 17:08

    Thank you for these words
    These words which we always need to hear repeated
    whether they are new to us or if it is a reminder as to where we are today in our journey.
    I hope we will see them again in the future.

    Margaret

  3. Union | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on February 2, 2017 at 00:06

    […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  4. Cecil. on May 10, 2016 at 05:18

    Thank you Br.David Vryhof for reminding me about Br.Laurence. I read the book many years ago and I think I lent it to someone and it was not returned: However I have always admired the strict way he managed his life, and have tried to follow his example,but I am not so self-disciplined as he was. It is with learning about Br.Laurence that I have developed a habit of talking to God about almost everything I do and thanking him for the way he has led me through life. Please do not think I am trying to brag – I am well aware of all my faults, and thinking of these keeps me humble, but I will Praise God for leading me throughout my 92yrs, and I still have much more to learn.

  5. Christopher Engle Barnhart on October 13, 2015 at 09:19

    In the simplest tasks, I see Gods hand. Be it raking leaves, cleaning the swimming pool, mowing the lawn or cleaning the house. Yesterday, it was cleaning the house, vacumning, cleaning the kitchen and mopping the floors. I did these chores with Gods help. And everything went smoothly and effortlessly with Gods help. Then I cooked dinner for my wife and myself with Gods help. I thank God for being with me through my days work and ask Him for help as I start a new day.

  6. John David Spangler on October 13, 2015 at 06:05

    Marta aptly described life as “What a journey!”. Blesed by having been on the journey for 86 years, I can tesify to what a journey, wonderful one, it certainly has been and continues to be. The yoke is easy and the burden is light. Though a cradle Episcopalian, I attended high school at a Christian Brothers College. Prayers were offered every half-hour an were begun by the tingle of a bell and these words: “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” I continue to use them to help me stay in the presence of God.— P. S. Thanks to the wise counsel of the Brother who was both my home-room and ethics class teacher, I remained an Episcopalian. Peace! David

  7. Marta e. on April 15, 2015 at 07:52

    Thank you for the breath of God, coming and going out of me/us, continually, constantly, faithfully, always. Thank you also for the mention of helpful universal books to aid us in the journey. It seems to be always a constant “battle” but the breath can carry us back and forth, in and out, what a journey . . . . So we are always involved n the struggle of our humanity and God seeking us, so we can seek God.

  8. Jennifer on April 14, 2015 at 21:32

    I, too, have read and recommend Brother Lawrence’s book. I will now look for Kelly’s book. As I’m currently suffering with respiratory problems, I especially appreciate the reference to “a gentle receptiveness to divine breathing.” — breathe on me, breath of God!

  9. Ruth West on April 13, 2015 at 18:22

    Dear Br. David,

    Many years ago I carried a copy of Brother Lawrence’s booklet in my purse and read it many times. What an inspiration it was! I have misplaced that little booklet, but I believe the message is still indelibly in my brain. What a joy to pray as I go about my chores! May I ever abide in Christ, as He abides in me. Thanks for this good message.

  10. Louise Kelly on April 13, 2015 at 13:30

    Thank you so much. I never expected to see Thomas Kelly quoted by anyone but a Quaker. Reading “Testament of Devotion” at a difficult point in my life helped me continue on a path that eventually led me to the Episcopal Church’s monks and nuns.

  11. Lisa on April 13, 2015 at 10:24

    Thank you. This is very helpful.

  12. Martha Paine on April 13, 2015 at 10:21

    Many years ago I read Br. Lawrence’s book, Testament To My Devotion, and it changed me…I began to see God, Jesus
    Christ in everything I was doing…Mundane activities such as washing dishes, ironing, cleaning, seeing God everywhere I walked. being a mother of 4 young children my life became at peace within myself no matter how tumultuous and distracting the outside world was. My life as a wife. Mother and teacher benefited greatly….and to pick up the SSJE sermon today brought me right back to Br. Lawrence,…..Thank you.

  13. Polly Chatfield on April 13, 2015 at 09:40

    Thank you, thank you, David. Your words radiate such calm love.

    P.S. To Roy: to look for a copy of The Testament of Devotion try ABE Books on line.

  14. Gary Davis on April 13, 2015 at 09:33

    In the life of the interior, practice not dogma or theory
    does indeed come first.In my
    life progress came on this side
    of the decision to practice.

  15. Margo on April 13, 2015 at 09:09

    Thank you Br. David you describe very well the underling prayer without ceasing that can go on in daily life. Rowan Williams described this too in the Christian century this last year some time. I don’t think it is everyone’s experience that it leads to a fruitful peaceful life. What of those who look for economic justice within our communion, hoping to find a community where accumulated money was not the primary influence and are very challenged to find it?
    Margo

    • Mryka on May 9, 2016 at 11:46

      I too have heard sermons about Brother Lawrence that emphasized his sacrificial attention to scrubbing pots, as though it were the acceptance of this lowly and unpowerful (one might even say oppressive) job were the essence of his holiness. The subtle message was that everybody must be poor and oppressed to be holy.
      This presentation by Br. David I think though goes against that and also might help you out. The point is to be present to God in whatever you do. It would be noticeable in someone doing what society does not value with recognition, to get our attention. But it wold also be noteworthy to get our attention in a very active and even successful life. I think the point is that it makes no difference at all what we do, we will do it best when in constant communication at some level with God. Jesus shows this in His own life, surely – He must, we believe, have been intimately communicating with God both when He healed the sick and overturned the money changers’ tables and cooked fish.

      • Marie on February 2, 2017 at 07:19

        Myrka, you make an important distinction: our own actions and relationship with God are what matters; we are not responsible for the outcome or the actions of others. If we look for a fruitful peaceful life in outcomes, we will always be disappointed. What occurs in our inner lives is what brings forth fruit and peace.

  16. Roy Hogg on April 13, 2015 at 08:16

    Thank you. Do you have any suggestion as to how I might obtain a copy of “A Testament of Devotion”? I loaned my copy to a friend some years ago and it was not returned. Woul love to reread. Roy Hogg

  17. Christina on April 13, 2015 at 08:01

    Thank you, Br. David. This past week has been horrific, but God, through Jesus Christ, and supportive people have seen me through. One of the brothers wrote some time back that there is mending, while the scaring may remain. (I think that is how it went.)
    The vision of Jesus standing in the garden was with me all of those days when I thought of him, and his agony on the cross a week ago.
    Blessings to all the Brothers. Christina

Leave a Comment