Spiritual Exercises: Remembrance of God

Remembrance of God

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. [Psalm 97:11-12 (KJV)].

At our highest and lowest levels of spiritual awareness, we can discern the difference between being near to God and being far from God. We can appreciate the joy that comes from the Divine Presence, from feeling that we have pleased God and that God accepted our humble devotions. By contrast, when we fall short in our relationship with God, we know the remorse and grief that accompany separation from our Lord.

These states of being representing remembrance and forgetfulness of God are the two poles of our binary existence. Controlling where we focus our thoughts is perhaps the most important ability that we can cultivate.

It is crucial for you to understand what meditation is. It is not some special posture, and it’s not just a set of mental exercises. Meditation is a cultivation of mindfulness and the application of that mindfulness once cultivated …You can meditate while washing the dishes. You can meditate in the shower, or roller skating, or typing letters. Meditation is awareness, and it must be applied to each and every activity of one’s life. This isn’t easy. [Bhante Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English, Ch. 15].

Public Remembrance

Organized religions design their architecture, rituals and icons to generate a mystical environment, but may succeed only in manufacturing brief moments of ephemeral emotions. Often, our mundane and profane states of mind overwhelm the sanctity of rituals, leaving us bored or distracted. At such times, we may seek to be closer to God than what we experience in public worship.

Christian monasticism found memoria Dei, remembrance of God, a ceaseless condition of the heart that offered constant communion with God.

The best prayer is one which imprints upon the  soul a keen sense of God. This [is] what it means to become a house of God: to have God  dwelling within through our remembrance of him. We become a temple of God when earthly cares do not sever this continual remembrance of God and unforeseen emotions do not  trouble the spirit. Fleeing all things, the one who loves God will draw near to him, chasing away the desires which lead to evil and holding to those things which lead to  virtue. [St. Basil].

In Islam, God commands: “… establish prayer for My remembrance.” (Quran 20:14). In fact,  dhikr is the greatest obligation of a believer.

CONVEY [unto others] whatever of this divine writ has been revealed unto thee, and be constant in prayer: for, behold, prayer restrains [man] from loathsome deeds and from all that runs counter to reason; and remembrance of God is indeed the greatest [good]. And God knows all that you do. [Quran 29:45]

Mystical Awareness

Remembrance of God is an ever-present refuge available to all believers. When our sincere belief in God permeates the soul, our faith provides a shield that prevents external corrosion.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18].

Remembrance of God caresses our intellect and soothes our thoughts. By remembering the protection and mercy that God provides, we ease anxiety and assuage our grief.

In the houses [of worship] which God has allowed to be raised so that His name be remembered in them, there [are such as] extol His limitless glory at morn and evening – people whom neither [worldly] commerce nor striving after gain can divert from the remembrance of God, and from constancy in prayer, and from charity: [people] who are filled with fear [at the thought] of the Day on which all hearts and eyes will be convulsed. [Quran 24:36-37].

When we know and trust in the complete power of God, we find peace and security by remembering that this all-encompassing force is protecting and sustaining us. This remembrance of God is what sacred rituals and ceremonial liturgies seek to evoke.

Remembrance is the mightiest rule of the religion … The law was not enjoined upon us, neither were the rites of worship ordained but for the sake of establishing the remembrance of God — In a word, our performance of the rites of worship is considered strong or weak according to the degree of our remembrance while performing them. [Sheikh Ahmad al-Alawi in Justice and Remembrance, p. 139].

Spiritual Immersion

Fasting reinforces our spiritual armor by deflecting material allurements and blocking sensuous intrusions. It helps to bring the cognitive thought process back in line with our spiritual affirmations, allowing Divine Light to penetrate the heart and inspire the mind.

Under special difficulties, or when in great need of, or great longings after, any particular mercy, for yourself or others, set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as it wont to be done in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God of the sins of your past life, from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with the circumstances and aggravations attending them, and spreading all the abominations of your heart very particularly, and fully as possible, before him. [Jonathan Edward, The Young Professor].

The ultimate spiritual fast seeks a constant state of God-consciousness.  We abstain from forgetfulness, from being absent or apart from God.

The person of the gnostic (‘arif) is with the people, while his heart is with Allah. If his heart were to forget Allah for the time it takes to blink an eye, he would die of yearning for Him. [Imam Ja’far Al Sadiq, The Lantern of the Path, Section 91].

To remain in constant awareness and remembrance of God is to have Him always before us. Such a state implies that we can vanquish the reality of being apart from God, enjoying the Divine presence during all aspects of existence. In other words, we seek a level of spiritual awareness where we eliminate false realities, ephemeral pursuits and selfish pride.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was the most perfect of creation in his remembrance of God. His commandments, prohibitions, and his legislating for his community were all forms of remembrance of God … His thanking Him for His blessings and graces, his glorifying Him, his enumerating His praises were all forms of God’s remembrance … His silent and tranquil moments were filled with the remembrance of God in his heart. His remembrance of God encompassed all of his states at all times. His remembrance of God flowed with every breath — standing, sitting and reclining. [Ibn Qayyim quoted in Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance].

This fasting from forgetfulness of God is not based on self-denial. It is not a product of physical abstinence or restraint. On the contrary, it is a result of longing, desiring, and immersion. Ultimately, it is a product of God’s grace, bestowed by the Creator on whom He pleases.

Remembrance of God is something that God himself grafts upon the soul. But the soul must also force itself to persevere and to toil. Work, making every effort to attain the unceasing remembrance of God. And God, seeing how fervently you desire it, will give you this constant recollection of Himself. [Theophan the Recluse, in Art of Prayer, An Orthodox Anthology, p. 120].

Thus, to achieve true God-consciousness is to undertake a spiritual exodus from forgetfulness of God toward a holy world of transcendent awareness and Divine communion.

Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly]; Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will]. [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (AMP)].

Related posts:

Further reading:

Dhikr, remembrance of God by Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

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