Recollection is the simple action of calling yourself consciously into the Presence of God. Acknowledge to Whom you are talking. Be awake, be aware of His Presence as you begin your prayers. The basis for recollection is twofold: Penitence, and Holy Detachment. But our experience of both is always partial and incomplete.
I have tried to achieve perfect penitence. The deeper I dig the more I find. There is no way to confess all one’s sins. No sooner are we through than something else pops up. It is rather like the child’s toy with colored pegs in a board and a wooden mallet. Strike down one, up pops another. In the end, part of my confession must be that my confession, by force of nature, is incomplete. I do my best and rely on mercy, grace, and the Blood of Christ to cover the imperfection of my confession. I pray, “For these and all other sins which I cannot now remember, I am truly sorry” (BCP p. 447). Even at that, retrospectively I wonder if I am sorry enough. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jer. 17:9).
One cannot boast of one’s confession. God knows the heart. There are no merits from penitence that purchase the Presence of God. The Presence is pure gift and comes at the mercy of the crucified Christ. Can it be any other way? Still we are called to enter into penitence as a doorway through which we must pass, muddled or not. At least do your best, and do not willfully hold back anything from your God who loves you.
Holy Detachment is also by nature incomplete. In the words of Henry Suso, “No matter how much one abandons, one repeatedly finds more of one’s self to abandon.” Yet clinging to the materialism of our age, to our anxieties and worries, only blocks the entry of God. Make your surrender as best you can. Take whatever clings to you, whatever nags at your spirit and put it down at the foot of the cross. Make your surrender at least for the present moment, for the now, and push all the cares of the world out of your heart for the time of prayer. The more we try to live in the state of detachment from the cares of this world, trusting in grace, the happier we will be. The more we embrace holy detachment, the more we will make our souls ready for the gift of the Presence of God.
The Presence of God is a gift. It is a gift given in the Incarnation of Christ, “Lo, I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). The Presence of God is the fundamental reality that is the ground of our existence, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The Psalmist cries out, “Where can I go then from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there. If I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast” (Psalm 139:6-9). From a spiritual perspective, the Presence of God all around us is a given. We do not need to practice the Presence of God. Rather we are called to practice the awareness of that Presence from Whom there is no escape.
That is only half of the secret, and secret it is. Paul’s word for it was mystery. Paul testifies that to the saints, “God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). The fact is that not only do we live in God, God also lives in us. Jesus said, “At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20). At what day? That day is declared by Jesus in John 14:16-17, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” At the moment of our entry into personal faith in Jesus Christ the living God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world, the Spirit of God makes His home in our hearts.
Paul speaks forth this glad truth; “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:9-10). If by faith you have the Spirit of Jesus within you, you have also Jesus Himself within you and you have also the Father of lights dwelling in your soul, for God cannot be divided. Jesus speaks the simple truth, “you will know that I am in My Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Penitence and detachment make the way clear for the humble acknowledgment that we not only dwell in God, but that He dwells in us: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Recollection starts with the acceptance of the spiritual reality as a given. There is nothing you need to do about it. It just is. Recollection calls to mind the perpetual Presence of God all around us and within us. At the beginning of each time of prayer, of each approach to God, recall to mind that He is present all around you, right beside you and within you, within your very souls. He is the liveable, breathable medium of our lives.
There are varying levels of awareness in recollection. Clearly the nature of our penitence and detachment will affect the depth of our recollection. So also will the level of our experience. Practice the awareness of the Presence of God by deliberately, consciously, recollecting yourself in His Presence when you pray and at other times on and off throughout the day. The more you surrender yourself to the Presence of God without and within, the deeper will be your experience of Him. Christ became incarnate and died for this purpose, that we might live consciously in union with God.