The fourth spiritual exercise builds on the skills learnt in the first three exercises but really gets to the heart of the matter. The purpose of all the spiritual exercises is to habituate ourselves to living deeply in the presence of God through every moment of the day. By learning the spiritual skills needed in order to keep heart, mind, emotions, body and soul attuned to the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12), we also enable ourselves to ‘de-tune’ the antennae of our minds from the incessant, neurotic and often pathological mental chatter that forms a constant internal commentary that chops reality up into pieces then sets those pieces to war against each other. As Dipa Ma said, “Our lives are just stories”. Unfortunately, those stories are often confused, jumbled, bear little resemblance to reality and so often resemble horror stories rather than the experience of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. By cultivating the ability to calm the waters of the heart and clean the mirror of the mind, not only do we perceive reality clearly, from the perspective of stillness and peace; but we become deeply aware of the wonderful presence of God that permeates all of reality and bubbles up from the core of our very being. Our world and everything in it is transformed and we agree with the angels who declared that, “the whole earth is full of glory” (Isaiah 6:3)
In ancient times in the Orient, mighty rulers would have many servants whose job it was to ‘wait’ on them. This is not the same as a modern waiter, waiting tables in a restaurant! As the King sat in regal splendour, the servants would quietly and attentively kneel around the throne, silently watching their Lord should he require their service. Their eyes fixed on his every movement, it was enough to be in his presence and demonstrate their love and devotion by their undivided, silent attentiveness.
In an age where most prayer is ‘transactional’, where we go to God in order to have our list of wants fulfilled and where we treat Him as our personal Divine PA, to learn to simply ‘wait on the Lord’ is a wonderful if radical concept. Like the woman accused of ‘wasting’ her perfume on Jesus, to waste an hour of our life in simple, silent adoration is possibly the best use that could possibly be made of our time. When the Bible speaks of ‘waiting on the Lord’ it is this practice to which it is referring, and the early readers of scripture would have easily imagined what it was like to sit in the awesome presence of such a mighty King. Again and again, the scripture enjoins us to “Wait, I say, wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14). Eye to eye, face to face, close enough to share our very breath, we discover the truth of what old Father Faber wrote five centuries ago:
Father of Jesus, Love’s reward,
What rapture it will be.
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee!
In many ways, this deep place of intimacy with God is similar to the experience of the High Priest as he entered the Holy of Holies each year; bereft of sensory input, mute in the presence of Divinity and overwhelmed by the ‘other’ that could only be apprehended when the ‘self’ retired. In actual fact, the way into the Holy of Holies may be seen as the deliberate stripping away of self, as the outer court of the flesh is passed through, atonement is appropriated and cleansing is received. As the Holy Place is entered, the mind and emotions are illuminated, transformed and then then gladly yield their ‘lordship’ of the soul before the worshipper could pass through the veil into the realm of the Spirit, the Holy of Holies.
Because of this it is recommended that you take some time to follow this same route, working through some of the earlier practices until you feel the body come to rest and the mind begin to yield to the spirit before you settle yourself to a period of Waiting on the Lord. The more deliberately you lay the foundational practices, the easier it will be to remain in an undistracted state and wait on the Lord in perfect peace for an extended period of time. If you find yourself getting distracted by thoughts, emotions or other distractions, just take a step back to the preceding exercises before once again settling into the glorious presence of the one who created you.
The Fourth Spiritual Exercise
Find a comfortable and stable position, sitting or kneeling as you find helpful. As you follow the previous practices and your body and mind come to rest, become aware of the only real physical activity that is going to be happening during this time – your breath. Let a gentle smile appear on your face – you’re in the presence of one who loves you more than you can imagine!
Be aware that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more than He does at this moment. This is not a moment for doing anything, just simply for being. As you follow your breath, feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of your belly, remember that Jesus said that, “out of your belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38). The well is within you – there is nowhere you need to go! The presence of God dwells in and flows out of this new Eden, the garden of your heart (the word translated ‘heart’ in the scripture is actually the word for ‘belly’ or ‘womb’). Sense the Presence of God in that Eden. Find the Presence there in the cool of the day, in the space created by the cessation of negative emotions and incessant thoughts. Walk with your God. Wait upon Him. Gaze upon Him. Don’t try to conceptualise what is happening, just enjoy this moment of spirit to spirit intimacy, eye to eye, face to face, mouth to mouth, breath to breath.
Perhaps after a moment, thoughts intrude or interruptions come. If that happens, just refocus, follow again your breathing until peace comes and then re-embrace this Divine Lover. Don’t be disillusioned if the sense of the Presence waxes and wanes, such is the nature of all intimate encounters. Just accept whatever you find – you are not doing this to get something our of God but simply to offer Him your uninterrupted attention. Don’t look for esoteric experiences or great revelations, just be content to sit with Him and receive whatever is happening as a gift. And stay as long as you wish – five minutes is wonderful, ten minutes is better. Soon half an hour will seem but a moment and an hour far too short a time for such bliss!
As I write this, I can sense this deep abiding Presence right now. When I close my eyes between sentences, I sense deeply the Source of my being, renewing and pouring love into my heart. As you learn to wait of the Lord, you too will find that this glorious awareness will begin to bleed into other areas of your life and find that the place of Paradise is not only within you but available in the here and now, simply by turning your attention within to the Source. Eventually every moment of every day becomes suffused with the fragrance of heaven, and this Presence pours out from your inmost being even in your darkest day. This is the secret of every mystic of every age and every creed. This is the place of rest that is spoken of in the Bible in Hebrews 4:9. “There remains therefore a rest for the children of God.” This is the Eden we must return to and learn to live in, every day of our life.