A Penn­syl­van­ian trained at Prince­ton, Union The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty (Ph.D. in soci­ol­o­gy, 1915), Laubach went to the Philip­pines under the Amer­i­can Board of For­eign Mis­sions. After four­teen years of suc­cess­ful teach­ing, writ­ing, and admin­is­tra­tion at Cagayn and Mani­la, he real­ized in 1929 his long-stand­ing ambi­tion of set­tling among the fierce Moros, an Islam­ic tribe on Min­danao. There, in the vil­lage of Lanao, he under­went a remark­able series of expe­ri­ences of God, and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly devel­oped a tech­nique for reduc­ing the Moro lan­guage to writ­ing, with sym­bols close­ly cor­re­lat­ed to their spo­ken words. This not only made it pos­si­ble to teach them to read in only a few hours, but per­mit­ted them imme­di­ate­ly to teach oth­ers. The famous Each One Teach One” pro­gram was born, and with the gen­er­al­iza­tion of his lin­guis­tic meth­ods the foun­da­tion was laid for his world­wide efforts to pro­mote lit­er­a­cy, begin­ning with India in 1935. Dur­ing his last thir­ty years Laubach was an inter­na­tion­al pres­ence in lit­er­a­cy, reli­gious, and gov­ern­men­tal cir­cles. His per­son­al con­tacts with Pres­i­dent Tru­man were thought to be part­ly respon­si­ble for point four” in Tru­man’s inau­gur­al address of 1949, spon­sor­ing a bold new pro­gram… for the improve­ment and growth of under­de­vel­oped areas” of the world.

Two years pri­or to his trans­form­ing expe­ri­ences of 1930, Laubach found him­self pro­found­ly dis­sat­is­fied in the real­iza­tion that after fif­teen years as a Chris­t­ian min­is­ter he still was not liv­ing his days in minute by minute effort to fol­low the will of God.” He then began try­ing to line up” his actions with the will of God every few min­utes. His con­fi­dants at the time told him he was seek­ing the impos­si­ble. But in 1929 he began to try liv­ing all his wak­ing moments in con­scious lis­ten­ing to the inner voice, ask­ing with­out ceas­ing, What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?…’” In his view, this is exact­ly what Jesus did.

Laubach did not fall into the trap of mere­ly try­ing to achieve his goal. Rather, he under­stood the neces­si­ty of learn­ing how, of spir­i­tu­al method. He was, in fact, a very sub­tle and real­is­tic exper­i­men­tal­ist, and regard­ed him­self as for­tu­nate to be liv­ing in a day when psy­cho­log­i­cal exper­i­men­ta­tion has giv­en a fresh approach to our spir­i­tu­al prob­lems.” Thus he exper­i­ment­ed for a few days by tak­ing enough time from each hour to give inten­sive thought to God. Again, dis­gust­ed with the pet­ti­ness and futil­i­ty of my unled self,” he exper­i­ment­ed with feel­ing God in each move­ment by an act of will — will­ing that He shall direct these fin­gers that now strike this type­writer — will­ing that He shall pour through my steps as I walk.” Again, he wished to com­pel his mind” to open straight out to God.” But to attain this men­tal state often required a long time in the morn­ing. There­fore he deter­mined not to get out of bed until that mind set, that con­cen­tra­tion upon God, is set­tled.” He found that great deter­mi­na­tion was required to keep the mind on God. But he also found it quick­ly get­ting eas­i­er, and hoped that after a while, per­haps, it will become a habit, and the sense of effort will grow less.”

In the most sub­tle pas­sage in these let­ters — so far as the mech­a­nisms” of hold­ing God before the mind are con­cerned — Laubach deals with the ques­tion of whether it is pos­si­ble to have con­tact with God all the time. Can we think his thoughts all the time? Must there not be peri­ods when oth­er things push God out? Laubach’s response to this issue should be ful­ly quot­ed, for it gives us the heart of his under­stand­ing of the con­stant con­scious hold on God. Admit­ting that he once thought there must be peri­ods when God is exclud­ed, he continues:

… But I am chang­ing my view. We can keep two things in mind at once. Indeed we can­not keep one thing in mind more than half a sec­ond. Mind is a flow­ing some­thing. It oscil­lates. Con­cen­tra­tion is mere­ly the con­tin­u­ous return to the same prob­lem from a mil­lion angles. We do not think of one thing. We always think of the rela­tion­ship of at least two things, and more often of three or more things simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. So my prob­lem is this: Can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few sec­onds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after-image, shall always be one of the ele­ments in every con­cept and per­cept?
I choose to make the rest of my life an exper­i­ment in answer­ing this ques­tion.

The tremen­dous results of this exper­i­ment are found in the nar­ra­tive of these let­ters. They are elab­o­rat­ed more sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly and prac­ti­cal­ly in the Game with Min­utes (1961), where the method was reduced to call­ing God to mind for at least one sec­ond out of each minute. But the quo­ta­tion giv­en con­tains the psy­cho­log­i­cal prin­ci­ples back of Laubach’s method for achiev­ing active union with God, con­stant­ly abid­ing in the abun­dant life.

With­in weeks of begin­ning his exper­i­ments he began to notice dif­fer­ences. By the end of Jan­u­ary 1930, and with much still to learn about his method, he had gained a sense of being car­ried along by God through the hours, of coop­er­a­tion with God in lit­tle things, which he had nev­er felt before. I need some­thing, and turn around to find it wait­ing for me. I must work, … but there is God work­ing along with me.” He dis­cov­ered by March 9 that This hour can be heav­en. Any hour for any body can be rich with God. In a man­ner famil­iar to the mys­tics of all ages, we find him say­ing to God: And God, I scarce see how one could live if his heart held more than mine has had from Thee this past two hours.” He expe­ri­enced dif­fi­cul­ties and fail­ures in main­tain­ing his con­scious­ness of God, but in the week end­ing May 24 he began to expe­ri­ence a fur­ther dimen­sion in his con­ver­sa­tions with God. In a moment of immer­sion in nat­ur­al beau­ty, I let my tongue go loose and from it there flowed poet­ry far more beau­ti­ful than any I ever com­posed. It flowed with­out paus­ing and with­out ever a fail­ing syl­la­ble for a half hour.” This brought him a deep­er aware­ness of God in beau­ty and in love.

Reflect­ing upon the results of two months of stren­u­ous effort to keep God in mind every minute, he exclaims: This con­cen­tra­tion upon God is stren­u­ous, but every­thing else has ceased to be so!” … The inner trans­for­ma­tion was sub­stan­tial and with real out­ward effects. God does work a change. The moment I turn to him it is like turn­ing on an elec­tric cur­rent which I feel through my whole being.” There is a real pres­ence” that affects oth­er peo­ple direct­ly, and that also makes inter­ces­so­ry prayer an exer­cise of sub­stan­tial pow­er in coop­er­a­tion with God.

Because of Laubach’s immense involve­ment with world­wide social prob­lems, he came to be gen­er­al­ly known for his work, not for his inner life. Many of those who have writ­ten about him say lit­tle about his spir­i­tu­al side, and obvi­ous­ly do not know what to make of it. But his own words and writ­ings (he pub­lished more than fifty books) reveal that he remained pri­mar­i­ly a spir­i­tu­al man — fun­da­men­tal­ly liv­ing from his moment-to-moment rela­tion to God — to the end of his days. He knew this rela­tion in a way that did not bear many of the exter­nal trap­pings con­ven­tion­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. But to observe his effect is to see that he was tru­ly one of those born of the spir­it, of the wind” that invis­i­bly pro­duces vis­i­ble results (John 3:8).

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Chris­t­ian Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, Edit­ed By Frank Mag­ill And Ian Mcgre­al, (San Fran­cis­co: Harp­er And Row, 1988, Pp. 516520).

Pho­to by Thomas Kel­ley on Unsplash

Text First Published November 1988 · Last Featured on Renovare.org October 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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