We Need More Than Spirituality: Practicing the Presence of God

If the notion of a “spiritual practice” claims your attention, something meaningful is going on within you in your relationship to God. Something has awakened in you a desire to give some of your much-in-demand energy to the life of your spirit. This is wonderful.

And yet, is it necessary? In your rhythm of life, if you find yourself struggling to focus sufficient time, on a daily or regular basis, on your relationships with family and friends, a good diet, adequate rest, physical exercise, stimulation of your mind, enjoyment of a hobby and pastime, a volunteer activity …  and a “spiritual practice,” then you may have inadvertently put your relationship with God in a box. If you find yourself “making time for God” in the schedule of your day or week, your practice might be impoverished. It’s not that you need to give more time to your spiritual practice; but rather that you might need to broaden your sense of what a “spiritual practice” is. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read, “In [God] we live and move and have our being” – all of the time.  There is no “spirituality” demarcation. 

The concept of spirituality or a spiritual practice does not seem to have been in Jesus’ vocabulary. Jesus lived his whole life in God’s presence. Whether Jesus was alone in the wilderness or amongst the multitudes; whether he was sharing a meal or healing a wound, whether he was praying or comforting or confronting, whether he was walking or sleeping, Jesus lived the entirety of his life practicing God’s presence. And Jesus gave his life for us to live our own life “abundantly.” He did not speak of our living an “abundant spiritual life”; rather, Jesus gives us the promise of his presence, and power, and provision in the whole of our life – the whole shebang. 

Jesus models for us what this abundant life can look like in his own relationship with the God whom he called “Father.” Jesus claimed his own “oneness” with God, and Jesus invites us into a parallel relationship with himself. He prayed to God that we be one with him: “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” This unity with God extends into every corner of our lives. It has no limits. The adjective “spiritual” – spiritual life or spiritual practice – is much too small. We have been given the gift of life, all of which we are invited to practice in God’s presence.

A French monk of the 17th century is one of my heroes. This is Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691), who had been a young soldier in the Thirty Years War. He survived a near-fatal injury that left him quite crippled and in chronic pain for the rest of his life. He had no formal education and was, by his own estimation and others’, quite clumsy. He entered the Carmelite monastery in Paris, where he became the cook. 

Brother Lawrence was soon sought after by monks and outsiders alike, not because of his culinary abilities but because of the beauty of his soul. He practiced the whole of his life in the presence of God, and his countenance teemed with God’s light, and life, and love. We read in a testimony compiled after his death, that he was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” This is not spirituality; this is the practice of the presence of God in all ways and in all times.

Where the term “spirituality” may be of helpful and creative use is in our doing some linguistic mining. The English word “spirituality” comes from the Latin spiritus: breath. In the Vulgate – Saint Jerome’s fourth-century Latin translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible – the Latin word spiritus is used to translate the Hebrew word ruach and the Greek word pneuma, both translated as “the breath of life, the Spirit of God.” 

Knowing that the English word “spirituality” draws its pneumatic force from God’s Spirit, and that God’s Spirit is linguistically described in the scriptures as “breath,” the pattern of our own breathing really opens a passageway of experience. We breathe in-and-out, in-and-out, in-and-out, in-and-out… continuously, for as long as God gives us breath. In the beginning – as we read in the Genesis creation account – God breathes into our nostrils, and we become a living being.  To be alive on this earth we must breathe unceasingly, and that is as true of the soul as it is of the body. Let your breathing be as an invitation from God, the assurance of God’s presence and sustenance. Take Jesus at his word that he is with us always, to the end. Within this past year I have companioned several beloved people as they breathed their last breath and died. I have taken great comfort in their being ventilated by the Spirit as they moved nearer into God’s presence, from where their life began. 

Practice the presence of God. This is the only “spiritual” practice we need. And we need it very deeply, to our core. Let your breathing be a living, ongoing reminder of the closeness of God’s presence with you all of the time: in your waking and sleeping, when you are still and when you are on the move; in times of great gladness and in times of great stress; when you are working, or weeping, or laughing, or waiting. Pray your precious life by breathing in God’s presence. God is with you always, as close as your breath.


  1. Nancy Mullikin on February 12, 2022 at 18:24

    Thank you for putting into words what I have tried to convey to others and feel that I missed the mark. You said it so beautifully and simply. Thank you again and God bless you.

  2. Michael Mondloch on February 5, 2022 at 11:01

    I too have been drawn to Brother Lawrence. But my admiration and intention to imitate him didn’t cut it. It was through deliberate, focused spiritual practice that something akin to his spirit has begun to take shape in my life.

    Attentiveness to my breath in prayer has increased my awareness of Spirit throughout my day and night.

  3. Fr Glenn on January 29, 2022 at 19:31

    VERY helpful and insightful.

  4. Alison Inglis on January 28, 2022 at 09:47

    Thank you so much for reminding us that we “live and move and have our being” in God all the time. How beautiful and comforting!

  5. rowan orre on January 28, 2022 at 03:24

    Thank you Br Curtis – your writing also is very helpful for me.

  6. Sandra Casey-Martus on January 27, 2022 at 14:35

    De’Caussade’s “Sacrament of the Present Moment”. (Kitty Mudridge translation) is also very helpful in gaining insight into the “spirituality” that we “are” at all times…..every moment…..every place….every one etc….Thank you for all you share with us so freely. Sandy+

  7. Elizabeth Morley on January 13, 2022 at 08:34

    Thank you for posting this article.
    I have always been drawn to Brother Lawrence and his simple but effective way of putting his faith into practice as described in the article and summed up simply in the following quote:
    “I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy.”
    Brother Lawrence

  8. Patricia on January 13, 2022 at 04:30

    So timely. So infused with the Holy Spirit. And such a relief to be freed of one more thing to do daily. But more importantly to just be inspired and encouraged to live my faith in everything I do, in every movement, word and thought. A tall task and beautiful way of being to contemplate and try to do. Thank you for the vision and encouragement.

  9. Cathy Simmering on January 10, 2022 at 20:39

    Thank you, Brother Curtis, for these deeply meaningful thoughts–exactly what I needed to hear tonight. Your words and thoughts bless me.

  10. Fr. Ed Frost on January 9, 2022 at 04:14

    Thank you, Br. Curtis.

  11. Sam Johnson on January 7, 2022 at 17:07

    So simple. So profound. Now to practice what I know is true. Thanks for getting me started on the right path.
    Sam Johnson

  12. Trish Callard on January 7, 2022 at 10:02

    Beautiful Curtis and so timely for Tim and me with stressful health issues
    This lifts me up
    Thank you
    So good to be in touch with you again
    Trish Callard

    • Virginia Swain on March 19, 2022 at 10:54

      Hi Trish
      I pray for you and Tim as you go thru health issues.
      Sending love and gratitude for our friendship at Phillips Academy so long ago.
      Virginia Swain (Ginny Cone)

  13. Bobbi on January 6, 2022 at 20:26

    Thank you, Br. Curtis. I needed this tonight to draw me back to God’s presence in every breath I take. How easy it is to let the news of the day lead me to compartmentalize my day and put my time with God into one of many boxes .

  14. marcia p mccampbell on January 6, 2022 at 13:32

    Beautiful. Helpful. Kind as always. Thank you Br. Curtis and Br. Jonathan for both articles. My day is off to a quiet, smiling start. LOVE, M

    Ps. This new format is terrific. I love the phots so clear and the colors are wonderful!

Leave a Comment