Thomas Kelly on Staying Spiritually Connected Throughout the Day
This is a follow up to a previous article about Thomas Kelly, where we focused on his ideas about how so many of us live fragmented lives, and wind up feeling unhappy and stressed-out. In this article, I want to point out what he says we should do about this. The other article was about the problem … here is the solution.
Once more, let me remind you that Kelly is a member of The Society of Friends (the Quakers), who have a strong emphasis on the “Light Within” — the presence of God in us, in the person of the Holy Spirit. He refers to God’s presence within us using a variety of different words, and you get a hint that this is what he means when he capitalizes the word.
Life is meant to be lived from the Center, a Divine Center. Each of us can live such a life of amazing power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence and simplified multiplicity, on one condition — that is, if we really want to. There is a divine Abyss within us all, a Holy Infinite Center, a Heart, a Life who speaks in us and through us to the world.
We have all heard this holy Whisper at times. At times we have followed the Whisper, and amazing equilibrium of life, amazing effectiveness of living set in. But too many of us have heeded the Voice only at times. Only at times have we submitted to His holy guidance. We have not counted this Holy Thing within us to be the most precious thing in the world. We have not surrendered all else to attend to it alone. Let me repeat. Most of us, I fear, have not surrendered all else, in order to attend to the Holy Within. …
We are all standing under the silent, watchful eye of the Holy One, whether we know it or not. And in that Center, in that holy Abyss where the Eternal dwells at the base of our being, our programs, our gifts to Him, our offerings of duties performed are again and again revised in their values. Many of the things we are doing seem so important to us. We haven’t been able to say No to them, because they seem so important. But if we center down as the old phrase goes, and live in that holy Silence which is dearer than life, and take our life program into the silent places of the heart, with complete openness, ready to do, ready to renounce according to His leading, then many of the things we are doing lose their vitality for us. I should like to testify to this, as a personal experience, graciously given. There is a reevaluation of much that we do or try to do, which is done for us, and we know what to do and what to let alone.
This is an amazing promise. We are given guidance and clarity when we take the time to tune into our true Center, which is the Holy Spirit inside us. Now Kelly gets to the heart of “how it works.” He is talking about a practice where we experience God’s presence with us throughout the day, in the midst of other outward activity. But you will notice that he also inserts a qualifier that we might miss if we’re not careful:
I should like to be mercilessly drastic in uncovering any sham pretense of being wholly devoted to the inner holy Presence, in singleness of love to God. But I must confess that it doesn’t take time, or complicate your program. I find that a life of little whispered words of adoration, of praise, of prayer, of worship can be breathed all through the day. One can have a very busy day, outwardly speaking, and yet be steadily in the holy Presence. We do need a half-hour or an hour of quiet reading and relaxation. But I find that one can carry the re-creating silences within oneself, well nigh all the time.
I’ve highlighted the qualifying sentence here. He suggest that the day needs to be anchored with some kind of focused attention on quieting ourselves and connecting with God. He speaks of it as a “half-hour or an hour of quiet reading and relaxation.” This seems to involve a combination of unwinding/relaxing, and reading or study of spiritual material to turn our minds to God. As busy and highly scheduled as many of us are, it might seem daunting to devote a half-hour (or more!) to something like this. But keep in mind that what he’s referring to is not simply an extended time of hard study or discursive prayer. It’s restful, relaxing. It’s quiet.
And then Kelly goes on to describe in more detail what it is he’s most concerned about: how we go throughout the day. His idea is that this time of quiet reading and relaxation sets us up for the rest of the day, where the bulk of our life becomes an experience of what we sometimes think of as “prayer.” He begins with a reference to Brother Lawrence (another book worth reading).
With delight I read Brother Lawrence, in his “Practice of the Presence of God.” It is reported of him, “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’ he said, ‘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.’” Our real problem, in failing to center down, is not lack of time; it is, I fear, into many of us, lack of joyful, enthusiastic delight in Him, lack of deep, deep-drawing love directed toward Him at every hour of the day and night.
I think it is clear that I am talking about a revolutionary way of living. Religion isn’t something to be added to our other duties, and thus make our lives yet more complex. The life with God is the center of life, and all else is remodeled and integrated by it. …
There is a way of life so hid with Christ in God that in the midst of the day’s business one is inwardly lifting brief prayers, short expressions of praise, subdued whispers of adoration and of tender love to the Beyond that is within. No one need know about it. I only speak to you because it is a sacred trust, not mine but to be given to others. One can live in a well-nigh continuous state of unworded prayer, directed toward God, directed toward people and enterprises we have on our heart. There is no hurry about it all; it is a life unspeakable and full of glory, an inner world of splendor within which we, unworthy, may live. Some of you know it and live in it; others of you may wistfully long for it. It can be yours.
Finally, this is how Kelly sums up such a life. This, in the closing words of the book:
Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.