In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, he tells the story of one character’s journey of self-discovery and heroism to save all of Middle Earth from the evil that threatens to destroy it. Though told in many smaller stories, that is the big picture, or "meta-narrative" at work. (meta = "beyond" or "about" and narrative = "story"; metanarrative = story about a story)
The Bible works in a somewhat similar manner. Though there are many small stories throughout, there is a larger metanarrative at work. In this letter, Br. Lawrence taps into one of these key metanarratives that we find woven throughout scripture.
This story is God's search for a home. From the outset of Genesis, God creates a garden and populates it with plants, animals, and people. Then, God comes down to walk, talk, and live with his creation (until disobedience messes things up). After Adam and Eve are expelled, God chooses to make a covenant with Abram, a nomad who lives in tents and builds altars (a foreshadowing of the tent/tabernacle to come).
There is a story about Abram's grandson, Jacob, a little later in scripture, where he goes to sleep and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth with angels descending and ascending. He wakes up, realizes he’s been in the presence of God, and declares that this place is the "house of God."
After Sinai, Moses takes God’s detailed commands and builds a tabernacle, or tent of meeting for the assembly of the people. Within this tent is the ark of covenant. This is the place where the presence of God will dwell. With the ark present, the people know that God is present - at home with them. After the people get to the promised land, the portable tent was no longer necessary. Consequently, two different permanent temples are built to house the ark and the worship of the Israelite people. Again, the temple represents the presence of God among the people.
In Jesus, we are told that God came down and made his home among us. In Jesus, "the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" and we beheld God face to face (Colossians 1:15-20). After Jesus died, rose, and ascended back to heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell in the hearts of believers as a seal for the coming day when God would bring a new heaven and a new earth. This new earth consists of a new Jerusalem, the holy city, where all the people of God shall dwell. As Revelation (the final book of the Bible tells us) in this new Jerusalem, there will be no temple because God will dwell among the people.
See, from beginning to end (from Genesis to Revelation), this has been God’s desire all along - to dwell with his people. Br. Lawrence is onto something here. Practicing the Presence means that we become aware that we live in the age of the Spirit, where God takes up residence in the lives of his people. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” the Apostle Paul asks us (1 Corinthians 6:19).
If we are the temple, we don’t have to go to a sacred space for worship (though that may be helpful). We don’t have to strike a certain pose for prayer (though it may be useful). We don’t have to say prescribed liturgies (though they may be guides). All we have to do is recognize the truth: God lives within you. So wake up, take notice, open the door of your heart, and welcome him home.
(For a good book on the metanarratives found in scripture, see Frank Viola's book From Eternity to Here - not the same Frank Viola who used to pitch for the Twins)