Recollection and the practice of the presence of God
In common speech, “recollection” means remembrance. In the prayer life, recollection refers to a specific type of remembrance – remembrance that we are in God’s presence. How can we cultivate recollection?
St. Teresa of Avila speaks of two kinds of recollection. One is natural, the other is supernatural. Natural, or acquired, recollection is something we can practice. Supernatural recollection is a form of infused contemplation, the prayer that God gives to those who have grown in union with him. Natural recollection is part of the preparation for infused contemplation.
Teresa writes about prayer, “If it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation. If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips” (“Interior Castle,” First Mansions, 1.7). As far as we are able, we must think about God when we pray.
Practicing recollection is the first step of mental prayer. When we sit down to pray, we mentally set aside all the concerns that would distract us. I sometimes picture myself setting these concerns at the feet of Jesus. I might mention each one by name: “Jesus, I give you my concern about ….” Then I ask him to send the Holy Spirit to speak to me through the Scriptures and to help me pray well.
Recollection of God is not just for times of prayer, however. Teresa also urges us to practice recollection throughout the day. In odd moments, we can draw our attention to the presence of God within our souls and commune with him briefly. With practice, recollection becomes a habit of living in God’s presence. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection wrote a book on this subject called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
A current fad would have everyone practice mindfulness. Based in daily Buddhist meditation, most mindfulness programs cultivate a particular kind of mental discipline. Recollection is something different. Recollection does require practice. We must work hard to form the habit. However, recollection is not primarily a mental discipline. Since God should be at the center of our lives, we should think of him often. We should see all our cares and concerns in the light of his goodness.
When a man falls in love, he becomes preoccupied with his beloved. He does not require mental discipline in order to think of her. She becomes part of everything he does. We are called to fall in love with God. The more we love him, the more we will think about him throughout the day, talk to him when we can, and talk about him to others. Recollection is primarily a matter of love.
Recollection also requires ordering our lives in accordance with God’s will. If we know that certain activities preoccupy us, so that we lose sight of God’s will for a time, we should discern whether we need to fast from them or give them up altogether. The more we align our priorities with God’s will, the easier it is to keep our minds on him.
We begin cultivating recollection by paying attention when we pray. Whether making the sign of the cross or meditating on Scripture, we should center our minds on God. As we enter into a deeper conversation with God, we fall in love with him. Our mental prayer spills out into the rest of our day, making more room in our schedule and in our thoughts for our beloved.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.