A quick postscript to the previous note. I thought I had this ‘awareness’ discipline down. I think about God all the time as it is. But as I reflect on it, I have to confess that what I do is think about God most of the time. I’m solving theological puzzles, conjuring up models of the trinity, thinking about how the incarnation came about or frustrating over the nature of Scripture. All God’s business, right? God is on my mind constantly as an object of thought, as a conundrum, as a problem to resolve, a puzzle to piece together. And if that is what ‘awareness of God’ is, then that will compete with conscious awareness of other things. You can’t do that (think about God) and do everything else well. What awareness can be without competing with all else is awareness of God as a subject in the second person, as conversation partner, as speaking to me and as addressed by me. We can pray without ceasing and do everything else. We can’t theologize about God in the third-person and do very much of anything else well. Why? Because to dwell, even devotedly, upon God in the third-person is to remain alone, to perpetuate the myth of separation, to assume my life with God and my living in this world have to compete with each other, as if I can’t be with both.
Pacing the floor in prayer last evening, I began to reflect aloud on what my ultimate desires and longings are. What do I really want? What’s the one desire which if fulfilled would make every other unfulfilled desire irrelevant but which if unfulfilled would render all other desires meaningless? To be more knowledgeable? To be theologically right? To live a long life? To be honored by your peers? Maybe all of these together? That would be something. I’ve put time into these. But running through the options, dismissing them each in turn as the ultimate end of desire, I finally said, “You, Lord. I want you.” I began talking, prayerfully, aloud about what that would look like. My mind (don’t ask why) went to the story of Congregational missionary and linguist Frank Laubach (1884-1970) who through disappointment and struggle came to dedicate his life to a single task—learning to live life without ever losing conscious awareness of God’s presence. To live in unbroken awareness of God’s presence, to perceive his intentions in the moment and to offer myself as the means of manifesting them—now, my sole desire.
God is the one reality we can be conscious of without diminishing our awareness of and availability to any other task at hand. The same isn’t true of anything else we may devote are attention to. Our limited energies are naturally divided the more items within the world we attend to. But God is not an item within the world. Awareness of him doesn’t compete with awareness of other things. Conversation with him doesn’t compete with other conversations. There’s room in God, but only in God, for all we do.