There is a story from the Desert Fathers where the great Anthony offers ome advice: “A time is coming when people will go mad and when they meet someone who is not mad, they will turn to them and say, ‘You are out of your mind,’ just because they are not like them’.” (Benedicta Ward, editor, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Mowbray, 1975/1983, 6.) Our world is fast paced – dangerously so. Most of us find it difficulty to slow down and be actually present to ourselves and those we love. The following notes offer a response.
BEING THERE, BEING PRESENT OR NOT
What a difference the presence of a little baby makes in a family, especially if it is the first. What a difference it makes in a strange place with people you do not know when you discover the presence of someone you know, especially a friend. What a difference the presence certain people make in a group – for better or worse! What makes “presence” good or bad? How is it that the presence of one person who says nothing in a group can be far more powerful than someone who says a lot? And what about those occasions when you are physically present but distracted, “absent,” “off with the fairies” perhaps? Or when someone comes to visit you in hospital – or elsewhere – and they are already doing the next thing before they have left you, they are not truly present to you?
THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE
Henry James wrote The Beast in the Jungle in 1903. In that story, a man – John Marcher – is convinced he has some special destiny awaiting him. John Marcher is in relationship with a woman – May Bartram – who clearly loves him and is present to him. The story is tragic. John Marcher is so obsessed with his destiny he is present to no one, not even himself. He is unable to reciprocate the love. May Bartram dies. John Marcher “wanders the world,” but none of the wonders of the world is able to distract him from his deep sense of loss. Eventually he is drawn back to her graveside, not from grief but from a confused desire to come “into his own presence” again. He may not have been present for his life, but there was something about her love that intimated what was missing. At the cemetery, he sees a truly grief stricken man. It is the sheer passion evident in this man’s presence that triggers something in John Marcher:
“Something – and this reached him with a pang – that he, John Marcher, hadn’t; the proof of which was precisely John Marcher’s arid end. No passion had ever touched him, for this was what passion meant; he had survived and maundered and pined, but where had been his deep ravage? The extraordinary thing we speak of was the sudden rush of the result of this question. The sight that had just met his eyes named to him, as in letters of quick flame, something he had utterly, insanely missed, and what he had missed made these things a train of fire, made them mark themselves in an anguish of inward throbs. He had seen outside of his life, not learned it within, the way a woman was mourned when she had been loved for herself: such was the force of his conviction of the meaning of the stranger’s face, which still flared for him as a smoky torch.” (Revised in 1968 by Lyall H. P. Powers), Penguin Books, 1968, 378.)
The great tragedy of John Marcher’s self-absorbed life is that he was never present for it. Like the financial successful, wonderfully reputable Will Barrett in Walker Percy’s Second Coming:
“Not once in his entire life had (Will Barrett) allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he ever been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream.” (Walker Percy, The Second Coming, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980, 123f.)
Both John Marcher and Will Barrett put us in mind of St Augustine:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty, so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! And behold, you were within me and I was outside, and there I sought for you, and in my deformity I rushed headlong into the beautiful things that you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. Those outer beauties held me far from you, yet if they had not been in you, they would not have existed at all. You called, and cried out to me and broke open my deafness; you shone forth upon me and you scattered my blindness: You breathed fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I now pant for you: I tasted and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for Your peace.” (Confessions, Chapter 27.)
Presence always suggests relationship. The quality of presence is the quality of the relationship. Presence implies some participation – at least implicitly – in the Eternal Presence. At its best, human presence bespeaks something more, it points beyond itself, towards a bigger reality, it is transparent. To meet someone with a quality of presence is to encounter more than that person. You know the difference when you also meet someone whose presence is mere ego-presence. Such a person is opaque.
Concretely, the basis for this quality of presence is good self-awareness. In other words, to the extent that I am present to myself I will be present to you. And vice versa. To the extent that I am not present to myself, I cannot be truly present to you. Being present to myself involves an honest and persistent facing of what must be faced. It is built on the most fundamental and practical question I can ask myself in any moment: “What is happening?” This question must drive an inner dialogue of ruthless honestly, one that brings me up against the Living God for I discover myself – and I can only discover myself – in God. Someone who has traveled this inner geography over the years shines. There are many things Church and society need today, but there is none more urgent than the presence of such travelers, people whose presence is truly sacramental because they are transparent.
Jesus invites us to share in the Incarnation. In this is the fulfillment of the Covenant. It may be summarized: “As you have been loved into freedom, go and be present in the world so that God may love others into freedom through you.” What sort of presence might we bring to the world if we lived with the conviction that God is true to the great promise – “I am with you!” – and that God loves each of us infinitely and unconditionally, that there is nothing we can do that will make God love us more or less, and that there is nothing matters more than being in love? Thomas Merton puts it well:
“But indeed we exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany. But we make all this dark and inglorious because we fail to believe it, we refuse to believe it. It is not that we hate God, rather that we hate ourselves, despair of ourselves. If we once began to recognize, humbly but truly, the real value of our own self, we would see that this value was the sign of God in our being, the signature of God upon our being. Fortunately, the love of our fellow man is given us as the way of realizing this. For the love of our brother, our sister, our beloved, our wife, our child, is there to see with the clarity of God Himself that we are good. It is the love of my lover, my brother or my child that sees God in me, makes God credible to myself in me. And it is my love for my lover, my child, my brother, that enables me to show God to him or her in himself or herself. Love is the epiphany of God in our poverty.” (From a Letter on the Contemplative Life, August 21, 1967.)
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Reflect on your experience of the presence of other people. Give some examples?
2. What sort of presence do you think you most often bring to a group?
3. What do you think it means to be/not be “present for your own life”? Give examples.
4. Reflect on James Marcher’s experience. What in particular strikes you?
5. Reflect on St Augustine’s “confession.” What in particular strikes you?
6. Describe a person you know who has a quality and depth of human presence.
7. What does it mean to you to ask the question, “What’s happening?” What is your experience?
8. Where do you think religious practice fits in all this?
9. Reflect on the ideas in the paragraph beginning, “The call of the person and teaching of Jesus ..”.
10. Reflect on the quotation from Thomas Merton. What in particular strikes you?
“CONVERSATION AS PRESENCE”
HOW DO I LIKE OTHERS TO TREAT ME?
In the book of Tobit we read: “Do to no one what you would not want done to you” (4:15). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says much the same thing: “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). St Paul echoes the same advice in his Letter to the Romans, reminding us of the radical call to love one another: “The only thing you should owe to anyone is love for one another, for to love the other person is to fulfil the law. All these, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and all the other commandments that there are, are summed up in this single phrase: You must love your neighbour as yourself” (13:8-9). (See also Matthew 5:43-48 & Luke 6:27-36 where we are commanded to love our enemies.)
Pope Paul VI reminds us of one fundamental way of being present in love – it is the way of conversation:
The conversation is not proud, it is not bitter, it is not offensive. Its authority is intrinsic to the truth it explains, to the charity it communicates, to the example it proposes; it is not a command, it is not an imposition. It is peaceful; it avoids violent methods; it is patient; it is generous. Trust, not only in the power of one’s words, but also in an attitude of welcoming the trust of the interlocutor. Trust promotes confidence and friendship. It binds hearts in mutual adherence to the good which excludes all self-seeking. In the conversation, conducted in this manner, the union of truth and charity, of understanding and love is achieved. (Ecclesiam Suam, 81-82.)
The 1971 Pastoral Instruction on the uses of modern means of communication puts it nicely:
Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level it is the giving of self in love. (Communio et Progressio, 11.)
As a rule, we all like to be treated with some measure of respect and care. This is not so much an issue of Christian morality as it is an expression of our humanity. We are built that way. We long to love and be loved. Our whole lives are a yearning and searching to be in love. The Incarnation is a resounding affirmation of that yearning – and its liberation. In Christ, God calls us and draws us into Love. Good conversation is part of this process. We ought to see conversation that way, and promote it with that in mind, whether it is conversation with our children, the person driving the car in the other lane, the academic, the contemplative, the checkout person in the supermarket, our spouse, ourselves, another person at a Spirituality in the Pub event, someone we dislike or anyone else. Good conversation is an act of love. We should seek it with everyone we meet. And of course the first person we meet each day is ourselves ……
IF I AM A STRANGER TO MYSELF, THE OTHER REMAINS A STRANGER TO ME
One of the better known events of Thomas Merton’s life happened to him while standing at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Avenues in Louisville, Kentucky. As he looked at all the people walking by, and felt deeply a shared humanity, it struck him that “there are no strangers!”. (See Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Doubleday, 1989, 156-158.) Merton reminds us of a paradox in this: “It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone they are not ‘they’ but my own self.”
Communion with the other means I must face myself in honesty and love. In practice, this comes down to the simple but elusive work of listening. In the stuff of life I must listen to what is going on with me, and between me and others. “Strangeness” – whether it is the “strangeness” of the other or the “strangeness” of myself – is simply the result of not having met. The “strangeness” will remain until or unless I take the initiative to face “the stranger” in myself. A good place to start is precisely where you are afraid or embarrassed to start. Go there, and gently but firmly ask open questions like: “What is happening here?” “What is it like?” “How is it making me think?” “How does it make me feel?” And listen! (For further help with inner listening I strongly recommend Eugene Gendlin’s remarkable little book, Focusing.) A consistent, honest and effective listening to what is happening brings awareness, and awareness brings freedom, and freedom brings communion. This is an excellent basis for engaging others in good conversation. It reminds us of the essential link between conversation and conversion: There can be no genuine conversation unless there is at least openness to, if not eagerness for, transformation in and through encounter with the other. (Although the work of transformation is ultimately a work of grace, our part cannot be overlooked. The work of honest facing opens us to the liberating love of God in each moment. John’s Gospel reminds us: “You are clean already by means of the word that I have spoken to you” (15:3). The work we do enables us to know exactly what the Gospel is revealing there.)
SPEAKING UNENCUMBERED WORDS
To the extent that I am free, my speech will be free and freeing. To the extent that I carry around inside me much unfaced agenda, my speech will tend to be burdened. It will carry freight that will often enough contradict what I think I am actually saying. You see, you and I are not the origin of words. God is. And God’s Word was made flesh (see John 1:14). For the disciple, speech is both a sacred privilege and a sacred duty. In my words I bear the Word. I must be free to do this. My words may be free to carry the Word and release it without obstruction. And if I am free to bear the Word in words to and for others, I will be free to receive the Word in words from others – no matter who they are or what they believe.
In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, there is a marvellous example of this. In a little piece entitled, “The bishop confronted by a strange light,” we become party to a conversation. The two men in that conversation – the bishop and a certain G., who is dying – represent opposing social and political positions. Because each is open to “something bigger,” a moment of grace emerges in which they are both present to each other in love. The Word glimmers briefly in the world in that moment:
The bishop saw that there was no time to lose. He had come there as a priest. His mood of extreme aloofness had changed by degrees to one of deep emotion. Gazing at the closed eyes and taking the old, cold, wrinkled hand in his, he leaned towards the dying man.
“This hour belongs to God,” he said. “Do you not think it would be sad if we should have met in vain? ….. Now at the age of eighty-six I am on the point of death. What do you ask of me?”
“Your blessing,” said the bishop, and fell on his knees.
Language is the servant of love. To speak is to love. Conversation is being present to the other in love.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. What particular annoys you about the way others might treat you?
2. What do you particularly about the way others treat you? Reflect.
3. Is there a connection between what you do not like about yourself and judgements you pass on others?
4. Is there anything that strikes you about the scripture references in the above piece? Reflect.
5. Reflect on the idea of “the stranger in myself.”
6. Recall an instance in which dealing with something within you helped your relations with others.
7. Do you have any experience of conversation also being conversion? Reflect.
8. “To the extent that I am free, my speech will be free and freeing.” What does this mean to you?
9. Reflect on Hugo’s image of the bishop asking for a blessing. What might this say about conversation?
10. “Conversation is being present to the other in love.” What does this mean in practise for you?
“SILENCE AS PRESENCE”
KINDS OF SILENCE
Just as peace is much more than the absence of war, and love is much more than the absence of hate, so there is a silence that is much more than the absence of noise. That silence might be negative or positive. For example, we use expressions like “eerie silence” and “moody silence,” a “beautiful silence” and the “gift of silence.” Silence, like everything else that matters in life, is both gift and task. What I bring to the moment can make silence negative or positive. Whether the outcome is negative or positive, can be assessed on the basis of whether it intends good relationships – with God, myself, other people, events and things.
For example, I can use silence to manipulate or hurt others or brood and feel sorry for myself or avoid the moral responsibility of speaking out. The intention here – deliberately or indeliberately chosen – might reasonably be called negative because the silence is potentially destructive to relationships. On the other hand, I can use silence as a way of protecting another’s integrity, as an aid to recollection or as an opportunity to face what must be faced in myself. The intention here – generally deliberately chosen – might reasonably be called positive because the silence is potentially in service of relationships. In this way, silence can become Presence.
SILENCE FOR OUR WORLD
Consider the silence in Jesus’ presence – his manner of teaching (see Matthew 7:29), his recollection in the midst of the disciples (see Luke 5:16 & 9:18), his response to the men who brought before him the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and his bearing before Pilate (see especially John 18:28-19:16). Undoubtedly his silent time in the desert was a significant influence in his life (see Matthew 4:1-11).
The example of Jesus was followed quite literally by many thousands of people who went to the deserts of Egypt in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries. In the Rule of St Benedict – mid-6th century – there is given a very good practical reason for the rule of silence:
The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question, for Scripture warns, ‘In a flood of words you will not avoid sinning’ (Proverbs 10:19), and ‘A talkative man goes about aimlessly on earth’ (Psalm 139(140):12). (7:56-58)
Benedict – and the subsequent tradition – clearly saw the need for silence in developing disciplined speech. We can assume Benedict was a keen observer of human behaviour. He was also a deep reader of the Scriptures. There he heard the psalmist say: “I said, I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue” (Psalm 38(39):2). He also heard James say: “Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a whole wicked world in itself” (James 3:6).
But there is much more than that in Benedict’s understanding of silence: “Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times, but especially at night.” (42:1) And again: “Reading will always accompany the meals of the brothers” and there is to be “complete silence (at meals)” (38:1 & 5). Silence can help us develop an atmosphere within which we can listen: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart” (Prologue 1). High value is placed on inner stillness. There we can face what must be faced. Life, no matter how “successful,” is empty without such facing.
Are any of us likely to face what must be faced if we do not seek out times of silence in our lives? What sort of presence will we bring to our relationships if we do not take up the task in the gift of silence? Can we contribute anything to the peace of the world unless we come to that world from silence? Is it possible to know ourselves as companions of God – our true vocation – if we are never still, never silent? Will we come to know God, the unnameable and the incomprehensible One, except in silence and by silence? Can we speak good words if there is no silence to nurture those words?
THE TASK IN THE GIFT
Silence must be consciously and deliberately sought. We must take the time. There is little or nothing in our culture that will help us to remember – let alone respond to – the words of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” It will take people of silence to restore silence to our culture.
Concretely, the task that comes with the gift of silence is the work of solitude. Solitude is not a matter of physical isolation. It is rather a matter of being fully present to yourself, submitting generously to the summons of the truth that arises from your depths. Solitude is more an inner journey than a geographical place or sociological situation. No one can make that journey for you or even with you. Most of us welcome the distractions because the journey frightens us. It is a journey through the wilderness of the spirit. It is also a journey that makes us real. It strips us of the useless and the fictional, the pretences and the game-playing. It adds a measure of urgency to our lives for we realise the time that we have wasted on illusions. Show me someone who is more or less superficial or mean spirited or someone who still thinks that life is about possessions and/or reputation, and I will show you someone who is refusing this journey. Show me someone of more or less depth, a man or woman of mercy and compassion, of genuine wisdom and magnanimity, and I will show you someone who has travelled this road.
And all this may be so ordinary as to be overlooked. There can be silence in washing one’s face, being there for a child, walking, driving a car, digging in the garden, reading a book and doing ones job. Yes, there can even be silence in speech. The silence is not likely to be in these mundane moments, however, if the task and the gift of silence are not deliberately embraced at other times and in other places.
Blessed are those individuals who do embrace the task and the gift of silence. And blessed are those communities who have such people dwelling in their midst. Their being there will help to ground the group in what is real and true. Their presence will tend to bring peace. Their words will tend to carry a healing power, being born of silence and leading back to silence. This is, after all, the true and ultimate value of speech – to reveal the Presence. The silence these people bear in their very bodies will be a presence which reminds the rest of us of what matters most.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. What is your experience of silence is a negative force? Give an example.
2. Why do you think malls and shops play background music?
3. Why might people rush to fill the silence that sometimes arises between people? Reflect.
4. What is your experience of silence as a positive force? Give an example.
5. In what circumstances might “absence of noise” not be positive silence?
6. What do you think is meant by saying silence is “gift and task”?
7. What steps do you take to ensure that your are constantly facing what must be faced within you?
8. What do you see as the link between silence and solitude?
9. Do you think it is possible to know silence in your world? Reflect with concrete examples.
10. How might silence remind us of what matters most?
“BEAUTY AS PRESENCE”
KINDS OF BEAUTY
There is a long tradition that identifies beauty with God. For example, the 5th century Christian author, Dionysius the Areopagite, writes in his book, The Divine Names (Chapter IV, 7):
“This Good is described by the Sacred Writers as Beautiful and as Beauty, as Love or Beloved, and by all other Divine titles which befit its beautifying and gracious fairness. …. The Super-Essential Beautiful is called ‘Beauty’ because of that quality which It imparts to all things severally according to their nature, and because It is the cause of the harmony and splendour in all things, flashing forth upon them all, like light, the beautifying communications of its originating ray; …. and because It draws all things together in a state of mutual interpenetration. And It is called ‘Beautiful’ because It is All-Beautiful, and more than Beautiful, and is eternally, unvaryingly, unchangeably Beautiful.”
One of the major philosophical enterprises of the 12th and 13th centuries was to show that the beautiful, together with the true, the good and the one, was one way of naming God. This text of Dionysius was seminal to those thinkers. But St Augustine had identified beauty with God about a century before Dionysius penned his words: “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you!” (Confessions, X:27).
Beauty, wherever it is found, in whatever form it manifests itself, is the Presence. It might be the case of seeing in a glass darkly (see 2Corinthians 3:18), but for those who have eyes to see it, all beauty speaks to us of God. The 20th century Spanish author, Miguel de Unamuno, observes in The Tragic Sense of Life: “What is beauty in anything but the revelation of its divinity?”
A WAY OF SPEAKING OF BEAUTY
St Albert the Great (1200-1280) describes beauty as follows:
“The nature of the beautiful consists in general in a resplendence of form, whether in the duly-ordered parts of material objects, or in people, or in actions.”
This is a useful description. The key idea is found in his expression, “resplendence of form.” “Form” is the inner truth or essence of a thing. When the truth or essence shines out, that is beautiful. Albert notes that this can be the case with material objects, people or actions. It is the beauty of people and their actions that we are primarily interested in here.
If God is Beauty, as the Christian tradition says, it stands to reason that this will be manifest in our nature, since we are made in the image and likeness of God. In practice, however, we are forced to recognise some complexities here. In the sentence from St Augustine cited above, there is a lament: “Too late ….” St Augustine goes on to explain:
“Behold, you were within me while I was outside; it was there that I sought you, and, a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. You were with me but I was not with you.”
We are helped to understand what Augustine is saying here by an earlier comment in the same Book of the Confessions:
“I did not know this at the time but I loved lower beautiful creatures, and I was going down into the very depths. I said to my friends: ‘Do we love anything except what is beautiful? What then is a beautiful thing? What is beauty? What is it that attracts us and wins us to the things that we love? Unless there were a grace and beauty in them they could in no wise move us’.”
Our origins are in Beauty. Our very existence is an expression of Beauty. We become beautiful when the truth of who and what we are shines forth. Our actions are beautiful when they express who and what we are. The moral life is beautiful. And the beautiful is attractive, it wins people.
THE BEAUTY OF GOODNESS AND THE GOODNESS OF BEAUTY
There are two particular Greek words used in the New Testament to describe something or someone as “good”: kalos and agathos. The Scripture scholar, William Barclay, in his New Testament Words, writes: “Agathos is that which is practically and morally good; kalos is not only that which is practically and morally good, but that which is also aesthetically good, which is lovely and pleasing to the eye.” Throughout the New Testament, kalos is used almost as frequently as agathos ‑ the former 99 times, the latter 104 times. We find kalos and its cognates used in the following instances: John the Baptist demands “good fruit” of those who wish to enter the kingdom (Matthew 3:10; see also Luke 3:9); Jesus calls people to “good works” (see Matthew 5:16); Jesus is “the good shepherd” (see John 10:11); Jesus does “many good works” (see John 10:31); the name of Christ is ” good ” (see James 2:7); the word of God is “good” (see Hebrews 5:14). In each instance, the word “beautiful” could be used instead of the word “good.” Thus we might speak of Jesus as “the beautiful shepherd” and the Word of God as a “beautiful word.”
William Barclay sums up:
“Clearly it is not enough that the Christian life should be good; it must also be attractive. A grim and unlovely goodness is certainly goodness, but it is not ‘Christian’ goodness; for Christian goodness must have a certain loveliness on it. Real Christianity must always attract and never repel. There is such a thing as a hard, austere, unlovely and unlovable goodness, but such a goodness falls far short of the Christian standard. In all his efforts to be good, in all his strivings towards moral holiness, the Christian must never forget the ‘beauty of holiness’.”
St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) sums it up: “We are to be made beautiful by the creative and primordial beauty, and illumined by the radiance of God.” The presence of the Christian must, literally, be a beautiful presence in the community. Our failure to recognise this might account, in some measure, for our failure to attract people. The beauty of our lives only shines forth to the extent that we are released from the fictions and illusions and outright lies that tend to dominate most of us most of the time. Our presence as baptized into Christ is potentially the Presence. And our world is hungry for that Presence, not another ego-project.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Think of some examples of beauty. What do you think constitutes their beauty?
2. Reflect on the quotation from Dionysius the Areopagite.
3. “What is beauty in anything but the revelation of its divinity?” What do you think this means?
4. Reflect on St Albert the Great’s description of beauty.
5. “Behold, you were within me while I was outside.” What do you think St Augustine means?
6. Can you give examples of agathos and kalos?
7. Is it possible to be dutifully religious but not attractive? Explain.
8. Do you know someone you would say is a beautiful person? Explain
9. Reflect on the idea that Jesus is the “beautiful shepherd.”
10. What do you think makes the moral life beautiful in practice?
“SACRAMENT AS PRESENCE”
ALL THINGS POINT
The Jewish philosopher, Abraham Heschel writes:
“The Biblical man never asks: Is there a God? The questions advanced in the Bible are of a different kind. ‘Lift up your eyes on high and see, Who created these?’ It reflects a situation in which the mind stands face to face with the mystery rather than its own concepts.” (Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1955, 98.)
St Augustine writes:
“And what is this? I asked the earth, and it said, ‘I am not he!’ And all things in it confessed the same. I asked the sea and the deeps, and among living animals the things that creep, and they answered, ‘We are not your God! Seek you higher than us!’ I asked the winds that blow: and all the air, with the dwellers therein, said, ‘Anaximenes was wrong. I am not God!’ I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars: ‘We are not the God whom you seek,’ said they. To all the things that stand around the doors of my flesh I said, ‘Tell me of my God! Although you are not he, tell me something of him!’ With a mighty voice they cried out: ‘He made us!’ My question was the gaze I turned on them; the answer was their beauty.” (Confessions, Book X, 6:9.)
The Catholic poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, writes:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck His rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the deepest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.
We believe that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” All that is, by reason of the fact that it is, manifests the Presence of the Great Mystery. For those who can see, life is epiphany, for those who can hear, life is invitation. Nothing is sufficient unto itself and therefore all things say, “Not me, more than me!” The divine is in the human, the eternal is in the temporal, the spiritual is in the material, the infinite is in the finite. This is what we call sacramentality. The Presence suffuses and sustains any and every presence. In the moment is the Presence. Daily living is sacramental.
THE SACRAMENT OF THE PRESENT MOMENT
Appreciating the sacramentality of daily living is a sure way to a deep and well-grounded spirituality. The 18th century Jesuit guide, Jean Pierre de Caussade, writes:
“The present moment is always full of infinite treasure, it contains far more than you have the capacity to hold. Faith is the measure; what you find in the present moment will be according to the measure of your faith. Love also is the measure: the more your heart loves, the more it desires, and the more it desires the more it finds. The will of God presents itself at each instant like an immense ocean which the desire of your heart cannot empty, although it will receive of that ocean the measure to which it can expand itself by faith, confidence and love. The whole of the created universe cannot fill your heart which has a greater capacity than everything else that is not God. The mountains which affright your eyes are tiny as atoms to the heart. The divine will is an abyss, the opening of which is the present moment. Plunge into this abyss and you will find it ever deeper than your desires.” (Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, translated by John Beevers, Image Books, 1975, 40-1.)
Openness to the sacramental presence of living demands attentiveness. To live is to listen. Living is then a divine-human synergy, born of and sustained by a never-ending conversation – with God, ourselves, other people and the events and things of our world. This is also a movement into community. God has created us to be co-creators – with God, with each other and with the natural forces of the world in which we find ourselves. Life is both unmerited gift and awaiting task. Trusting the Presence in the moment is not an invitation to passivity or fatalism or pious acceptance of things that ought to be challenged. On the contrary, revelation is always summons. The centre of gravity shifts from ego to Mystery. The focus of our efforts shifts from mastery towards facilitation, from imposition towards emergence and from competition towards participation.
THE SILENCE OF SACRAMENTAL PRESENCE
What of the moments of pain in our lives? Are these sacramental too? Can we realistically speak of God being present in our pain? We must. If our faith in the crucified means anything it means that God awaits us most especially in our own Gethsemanes and Calvaries. Our faith is worth nothing if we do not trust the promise, “I am with you!” God’s Presence may be experienced as absence. God’s Word may be there as silence. God’s promise to be with us might seem as it did to Jesus on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” The fact that he chose the opening words of a venerable Jewish prayer – Psalm 22 – reminds us of something we must never forget. You can only cry out to God and argue with God and rail against God if you have a relationship with God. The French Jewish writer, Simone Weil knows this truth well when she writes:
“God and humanity are like two lovers who have missed their rendezvouz. Each is there before the time, but each at a different place, and they wait, and wait, and wait. He stands motionless, nailed to the spot for the whole of time. She is distraught and impatient. But alas for her if she gets tired and goes away. …. The crucifixion of Christ is the image of the fixity of God. God is attention without distraction. One must imitate the patience and humility of God.” (Simone Weil, “The Things of the World” in G. A. Panichas (ed.) The Simone Weil Reader, David McKay Company Inc., 1977, 424f.)
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Reflect on the quotation from Abraham Heschel.
2. Reflect on the quotation from St Augustine.
3. Reflect on the poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
4. Describe the concept of “sacramentality” in your own words.
5. Give an example of “sacramentality” in daily living from your own experience?
6. Reflect on the quotation from Jean Pierre de Caussade.
7. What does the “grace of the present moment” mean for you in your daily living?
8. What do you understand by the expression, “revelation is summons”?
9. Reflect on your experience of the “silence of the sacramental presence.”
10. Reflect on the quotation from Simone Weil.
“THE WAY OF WONDER”
IT IS NATURAL AND NECESSARY TO WONDER
Near the beginning of his Metaphysics (Book I, Chapter 2), Aristotle reminds us of the basis of all human knowing: “It is owing to their wonder that human beings both now begin and at first began to philosophize.” Aristotle emphasizes that wonder implies a certain “not knowing” and it leads us, first and foremost, towards the kind of knowledge that exists for its own sake, not for any utilitarian purpose. Wonder recognises and draws us towards the inexhaustible intelligibility of it all. We call that inexhaustible intelligibility mystery. This radical way of knowing – the way of wonder – is also a radical way of being in the world.
In the face of spectacular advances in scientific knowledge and stunning inventions in the world of technology, we are in danger of forgetting the way of wonder. The more we are absorbed by knowledge oriented towards the useful, the more we are likely to forget or even dismiss knowledge that exists for its own sake. In our forgetfulness we may begin to measure everything by its usefulness. “Does it work?” and “Can it be done?” become far more important than “Does it have value in itself?” and “May it be done?” Paradoxically, the way of wonder, far from diminishing our appreciation for the true contribution of useful things, actually enhances that appreciation. In the absence of wonder, the Absolute becomes relative and the relative becomes absolute. Wonder preserves a sense of right order and perspective. Wonder knows and accepts that life is, in the end, a mystery to be lived not a problem to be solved. There is no solution for life, just the living, intelligently, honestly, compassionately.
Wonder holds us to the recognition that a tree is first and foremost a tree, not a certain number of cubic metres of timber. A tree has a value in and of itself and that value precedes any usefulness the tree might offer to us. There is an ancient Chinese story that tells of a woodcarver called Khing. He makes a simple bell stand. Its beauty is striking. People want to know how he did it. The end of the story has Khing explain that, after he had fasted and gathered himself spiritually for the task,
Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.
(Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, New Directions, 110-11.)
MOVING BEYOND THE MERELY USEFUL
Wonder generates conversation which, in turn, leads us into wonder. Eli Wiesel puts it nicely:
In the word question, there is a beautiful word – quest. I love that word. We are all partners in a quest. The essential questions have no answers. You are my question, and I am yours – and then there is dialogue. The moment we have answers, there is no dialogue. Questions unite people. Answers divide them. (Elie Wiesel, Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Snow College, 22 May 2006.)
Utilitarian knowing and thinking is legitimate. It produces useful outcomes. The woodcarver Khing, in the ancient Chinese story, actually combines the utilitarian way with the way of wonder. Serious difficulties arise, however, when we start believing that the utilitarian way is the only way. The way of the science lab can be an insuperable obstacle in the more important affairs of living. The implicit agenda in all utilitarian knowledge is control. The implicit agenda in the way of wonder is the summons of the Mystery manifested as Truth, Goodness, Beauty and Communion of Being. The quest we share as human beings, the quest that will unite us, begins and ends in our encounter with that Mystery. That Mystery is present in and revealed through every person and every event, every thing and every moment – in and through me, you, the earth, our waterways, the air, literally every part of existence. All we need is the eyes to see and the ears to hear. The sure sign that we do have such eyes and ears is the experience of wonder in the midst of the ordinary experiences of being alive. Wonder is the sign that we are awake.
In the way of wonder and in the questioning and conversation that is born of that wonder, we manifest our deepest identity as human beings. Wonder takes us out of ourselves towards communion with the Ultimate Other in and through the immediate other. Captured by wonder, I cease – at least momentarily – to be captive of my ego. I necessarily become self-forgetful, and in that self-forgetfulness am free for communion. The narcissist, the selfish and the self-absorbed do not know wonder. Wonder is the enemy of ego-centricity in all its forms. Alternatively, wonder is the midwife of communion in all its forms.
A modern story suggests that children have much to teach us about wonder. Abraham Maslow, a significant twentieth century figure in the quest to understand human behaviour, recalls the life-transforming effect of observing his own child
…. when my baby was born that was the thunderclap that settled things. I looked at this tiny mysterious thing and felt so stupid. I was stunned by the mystery and the sense of not really being in control. I felt small and weak and feeble before all this. I’d say that anyone who had a baby couldn’t be a behaviorist. (Mary Harrington Hall, “A Conversation with the President of the American Psychological Association: The Psychology of Universality – Abraham Maslow”, Psychology Today, 2, 2 (July 1968), pp.54f. & 56.)
It is no accident that Jesus urged us to be like little children. (See Matthew 18:1-4; Mark 9:33-36; Luke 9:46-47.) And maybe the psalmist was on the same track when he wrote:
It was you who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb. For all these mysteries I thank you: for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.” (Psalm 139:13-14).
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Recall an experience of wonder. What happened?
2. What might it mean to say that wonder is a “radical way of knowing”?
3. Compare and contrast the way of wonder with the way of utilitarian knowing.
4. Do you agree that we are “in danger of forgetting the way of wonder”? Reflect on this.
5. Reflect on the ancient Chines story in the light of your own experience?
6. Think of examples of what happens when we regard nature (eg trees) in merely utilitarian ways?
7. “The implicit agenda in all utilitarian knowledge is control.” Reflect.
8. “The implicit agenda in the way of wonder is the summons of the Mystery.” Reflect.
9. Reflect on the personal experience described by Abraham Maslow.
10. Reflect on the verses from Psalm 139. What are some practical implications for you?
“THE WAY OF LOVE”
DEUS CARITAS EST
On Christmas Day 2005, Pope Benedict published Deus Caritas Est. At that time, the Pope reflected on why he had chosen the theme of God’s love for this encyclical, his first. In the context of a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy (Paradise XXXIII, verse 145), the Pope says: ‘Light and love are but one thing. They are the primordial creative power that moves the universe.’ He goes on to say that Aristotle glimpsed something of this, but that what Dante describes is ‘something totally new and unimaginable for the Greek philosopher’:
“In reality, the perception of a human face – the face of Jesus Christ – which Dante sees in the central circle of light is even more overwhelming than this revelation of God as trinitarian circle of knowledge and love. God, infinite light, whose incommensurable mystery had been intuited by the Greek philosopher, this God has a human face and – we can add – a human heart. …. God’s eros is not only a primordial cosmic force, it is love that has created us and that bends before us, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, victim of thieves, who was lying on the side of the road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.”
The opening words of the actual encyclical go right to the heart of the matter:
“‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’ (1John 4:16). These words from The First Letter of John,express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: ‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.’
“We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his or her life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should … have eternal life’ (3:16). In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth.”
THE SAD VICTORY OF ETHICS
In his allusion to ethics, Benedict reminds us of a sad legacy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“Man and woman at their origin know only one thing: God. It is only in the unity of their knowledge of God that they know of other human beings, of things, and of themselves. They know all things only in God and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that they are no longer at one with their origin. (Emphasis added.) In the knowledge of good and evil human beings do not understand themselves in the reality of the destiny appointed in their origin, but rather in their own possibilities, their possibilities of being good or evil.” (Ethics, Fontana Library, 1970, 18)
Bonhoeffer is pointing to the origins of moralism. He suggests we might, in fact, understand ‘original sin’ in terms of moralism. The sin of moralism is found in the shifting centre of gravity, from God to the human subject. Under the guise of seeking to know what is good and true and behaving in accord with that, the focus moves from what God has on offer to what we will offer God. This has been the worm in the apple of Christianity. Is there, then, a place for a specifically Christian ethics? Of course! Its place is subordinate to and as an expression of the primacy of love. We could summarise Christian ethics as follows: As you have been loved into freedom, be in the world, in such a way, that God can love others into freedom through you. A key phrase here is, as you have been loved into freedom. The driving force of Christian ethics is the experiential knowledge that God loves me infinitely and unconditionally.
LOVE IS THE BEGINNING AND THE END
Read again Pope Benedict’s statement: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” The ‘event’ is God enfleshed in that historical man, Jesus of Nazareth. Our encounter with Jesus will necessarily change us, to the core of our beings. Once we have tasted the love of God we will long to be in love. The Founder of the Marist Fathers, Jean Claude Colin, put it nicely when speaking of the training of young Marists:
“Once they were united to God, everything else would take care of itself; no matter how you plant the seed and tire yourself out, the life-giving principle is still lacking. But having once tasted God, a novice will turn to him again and again. It is a treasure in his soul, something to which he is constantly brought back as to his own centre. There he will love to converse with God.”
Love is our reason for being. We exist as an expression of God’s love and find our fulfilment in love. The deepest desire of the human heart is to love and be loved. The Incarnation gives a resounding ‘Yes!’ to that. Our life in Christ is fundamentally a movement ever more deeply into being in love. What would happen to our homes, our work places, our neighbourhoods, our nations, if we who have been baptised into Christ, lived out the implications of our baptism? It is perhaps this kind of question that prompted G K Chesterton to muse: ‘Christianity has not failed, it hasn’t been tried yet.’
And the challenge is not to rush out there and love everybody, whatever that could possibly mean. C S Lewis criticised the Christians who rush around doing things for others all the time. He said you can tell ‘the others’ by their hunted look. Frederick Ozanam said, if you do not love the poor they will not forgive you for helping them. We have the common saying, ‘Cold as charity!’ All of which reminds us that we can easily miss the point. And the point is that love is ultimately the life of God in which we participate (see 1John 4:10). That life – that love – is pure gift and it has been ‘poured into our hearts.’ (See Romans 5:5). Our task is to accept the gift, a ‘treasure,’ a ‘priceless pearl.’ (See Matthew 13:44-45).
Genuine love is always characterised by two basic qualities: Grace and freedom. Truly loving people are humble in the knowledge that they are not the source but the instrument of love, they are the place where God enters the world. More particularly, they know they are part of something bigger than themselves, something far more wonderful than they can even begin to imagine. (See 1Corinthians 2:9.) And the best way to know these things – to know them in our bones – is to put ourselves regularly in the way of grace, to let God catch up with us. That means listening, listening everywhere with ‘the ears of the heart,’ as St Benedict described it so beautifully nearly fifteen centuries ago. God’s life and love is on offer everywhere. Nothing can separate us from that. (See Romans 8:31-39.)
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. What difference does your baptism make to your view of the world?
2. In reference to the Incarnation describe the meaning of love.
3. What do you think Dietrich Bonhoeffer was saying?
4. What do you understand by the term ‘moralism’ as used here? Why is it called ‘sin’?
5. What has been emphasized most in your own experience of the Christian tradition?
6. Explain the obligation to seek truth and goodness in terms of the primacy of love.
7. Recall a person whom you believe to be genuinely loving. What were/are their outstanding qualities?
8. What do you think G K Chesterton meant by his comment?
9. What do you think Frederick Ozanam meant by his comment?
10. What is your biggest challenge if you are to submit fully to the gift of your baptism?
“THE COTEMPLATIVE WAY”
THE UNEXAMINED LIFE
We live in a fast-paced and noisy world. It is also a world that is more interested in “having” and “doing” than “being.” Metaphysics does not interest us. As a result, we tend to be fairly self-absorbed and individualistic. The question, “May we?” is typically replaced by the question, “Can we?” We seem to have lost our roots in wonder and our appreciation for poetry, symbol, story, myth and faith, seems to have diminished. In such an atmosphere it is easy to become forgetful. We might actually forget what it is to be truly alive, to be a human being, to be this human being, to be in community with others. We might also forget our connections with the earth, the water and the air and what all that means.
In Plato’s record of Socrates’ defence of himself at his trial, we hear Socrates say:
For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your property, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul …. and that the unexamined life is not worth living. (Plato, “Apology” in The Dialogues of Plato, The Jowett Translations, ed Justin D Kaplan, Pocket Books, 1951, 24 and 34)
Socrates points us towards the contemplative way.
POOLS OF SILENCE IN THIS THIRSTY LAND
One of Freud’s early disciples, a man by the name of Ferenczi, identified a problem in some of his patients. He called it “Sunday neurosis.” On Sundays, certain people would get a headache or depression or stomach upset or the like. Here we need to set aside the wowser’s approach to the Sabbath that often burdened life in Australia. Sunday – in 1919 Budapest – was a day of celebration, rest, festivity. It was therefore a day on which the pressures and tensions and demands of the workaday week were relinquished for a brief time. Ferenczi reasoned that, for some people, this actually created an inner conflict. Because the workaday week held them and their inner drives in check, they could not cope easily with Sunday, with its invitation to relax and simply be with others and enjoy being alive. Hence the symptoms.
Ferenczi may or may not have been correct in his analysis. In any case, the amount of addictive behaviour in our culture suggests that there is something wrong. Are we afraid of silence? Is stillness threatening? Do we keep moving and refusing to stop and face ourselves because we are anxious about what might happen? Do we think, for example, that we only exist when we are doing something, producing something? James McAuley suggests such questioning when he writes in “A Letter to John Dryden”:
Incarnate Word, in whom all nature lives,
Cast flame upon the earth: raise up contemplatives
Among us, men who walk within the fire
Of ceaseless prayer, impetuous desire.
Set pools of silence in this thirsty land ….
THE HEART OF THE CONTEMPLATIVE WAY
We might think of the contemplative way in terms of four ongoing movements: “Turning,” “facing,” “listening” and “waiting.” These movements are all ordered towards one thing. Karl Rahner sums that one thing up nicely:
The ultimate and most specific thing about Christian existence consists in the fact that Christians allow themselves to fall into the mystery which we call God; that we are convinced in faith and in hope that in falling into the incomprehensible and nameless mystery of God we are really falling into a blessed and forgiving mystery which divinizes us. (Foundations of Christian Faith, A Crossroad Book, 1978, 430.)
“Turning” is a response to the claim our very beings make on our attention. It is our nature to be constantly seeking, searching and gradually and progressively turning more profoundly towards the true and the good. We seek fulfilment in that. Daily we seek to turn towards God and what God intends, even if that turning is only implicit. From time to time we turn away in forgetfulness. We must turn again and again. The contemplative way is a constant turning towards the Infinite Mystery of Love.
“Facing” is a response to the disquiet and dissonance that we know within us. In the facing there is also a turning. When we face what must be faced, we submit to the truth that sets us free. And so we move or, more precisely, we are moved. In the facing we make ourselves available to grace. We allow ourselves to be touched, we give ourselves a chance of meeting ourselves, our true selves. Turning and facing are not much encouraged by our culture. We must deliberately choose them and set up times for them and work to make them part and parcel of our daily lives. This is an essential part of the contemplative way.
“Listening” is a response to the promise, “I am with you!”. The world is a sacrament, it ultimately embodies promise, not threat. We must listen with the ears of the heart (St Benedict). In the listening there is also a facing and a turning. We listen in order to hear and we hear in order to heed. This is the life of obedience. We open ourselves to be taken hold of by Love (see Philippians 3:12). We are drawn into the “colloquium salutis” (“conversation of salvation”) as Pope Paul VI described it. We are taught through this listening that to be is to be in love. Listening is the very nub of the contemplative way.
“Waiting” is a response to the fact that living is not about conquest but grace. To live is to know that all is gift, that no matter how dark and tragic the moment, life is gracious. We wait upon each moment as much as we wait for the fulfilment that is our sure inheritance. In the waiting we continue the turning and the facing and the listening. Waiting teaches us to be poor. When we embrace the waiting we let go the thought of mastery. To wait is to be vulnerable. Those who know this experience also know an affinity with the poor and the dispossessed. Waiting is both cause and result of the contemplative way.
James McAuley complements Karl Rahner when he suggests where the contemplative way might take us:
And when the heart is once disposed to see,
Then reason can unlock faith’s treasury.
To rapt astonishment is then displayed
A cosmic map Mercator never made.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. Do you find our culture conducive to reflection and thoughtfulness? Reflect.
2. How do you nourish reflection and thoughtfulness in your life?
3. Do you observe any addictive behaviours in yourself or those around you? What is happening?
4. In what way is addictive behaviour an obstacle to reflection and thoughtfulness?
5. Reflect on James McAuley’s reference to “pools of silence.”
6. Reflect on Karl Rahner’s summary statement on “the ultimate and most specific thing.”
7. Drawing on your experience, put into your own words the idea of “turning” as described here.
8. Drawing on your experience, put into your own words the idea of “facing” as described here.
9. Drawing on your experience, put into your own words the idea of “listening” as described here.
10. Drawing on your experience, put into your own words the idea of “waiting” as described here.
“PRAYER AS PRESENCE”
WHAT IS PRAYER?
If you were to gather one hundred Christians in a room and ask them to write down what they think prayer is, you would no doubt get a variety of responses. And they might all be “right.” The various responses might emphasize petition, or contemplation, or formulae and rituals that we say or do, or grace, or God, or attentiveness, or silence, or something else equally relevant. However, we could expect every response to imply, if not explicitly state, that prayer is fundamentally about presence – our presence with God, God’s presence with us. Before prayer is a method or action or word, it is a response to the great promise: “I am with you!”. (See, for example, the epiphany of the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-15, and the name of the Messiah – “Emmanuel” – in Matthew 1:23.)
THE HUMAN GROUND OF PRAYER
Relationships are the very essence of human living. Our humanity is constituted in and through relationships. The quality of our relationships is the measure of our humanity. Those relationships are fourfold. The first relationship, the one that gives context and meaning to all the others, is the relationship with God. The other three relationships are with ourselves, with other people, and with the events and things of our lives. In a healthy life, all four relationships thrive, more or less.
It is an axiom of the Tradition that we find ourselves – our true selves – in God. When we are grounded in the Mystery of God, all else is relative to that. The prayerful – prayer-filled – life is the life lived in attentiveness to and mindfulness of God’s presence. This attentiveness and mindfulness are ways of being present. When I am present to the Presence, I am more likely to be realistically and constructively present to myself, others and the events and things of my world. This is in fact another way of thinking of your deepest possibilities as a human being. To be present – fully present – is a profound act of love. How often could you say you are fully present to God, or to yourself, or to others, or to any event or thing? And in those rare moments when you are fully present to God, or to yourself, or to other people, or to events and things, are they not also the moments when you feel most alive?
PROMOTING A PRAYERFUL LIFE
Slow down: Take time, walk a little more slowly, eat more slowly, avoid trying to do two or three things at once, let your body be reflective in its movements. Be where you are. You cannot be truly present to anyone or anything at speed. Being present is being in love. Give yourself a chance to enjoy it!
Become aware: Pay attention to what you are doing, become aware of actions you might normally do without too much reflection – for example, standing in a checkout queue in the supermarket, transacting business with someone, walking along the footpath, washing your face, setting the table, preparing a meal, eating, turning on a light, closing a door etc. Become present to your body and what is happening in the moment. Writing may assist this growth in awareness.
Ask open questions: Let the question, “What’s happening?”, come gently to mind from time to time during the day. Don’t answer it, listen. Other open questions might include: “What’s happening for him/her?”, “What’s happening between us?”, “What am I feeling?”. Pay attention to the deeper, unseen and generally unnoticed movements within and around you.
Face your issues: Face what must be faced, gently, firmly, honestly. Avoid nothing. Use whatever processes you find most helpful to do the facing – speaking with a friend, therapy, writing, studying etc. Your unaddressed conflicts will undermine your ability to be present. Free yourself of potential obstacles by living and working through the conflicts, rather than avoiding them.
Submit patiently to life’s demands: Allow life’s moments to ask something of you. Listen for the pace of grace in the everyday. Pay attention to your expectations and put them alongside the facts. Are your expectations realistic? Living is more about participating than competing or conquering. Life has much to give you and teach you. In submission to what is real and true you discover your mission in life.
Seek the company of the “have nots”: Jesus did this. (See, for example, Luke 15:1). Seek out those who have not status or reputation, have not money or employment, have not clothes or food, not because you can give them something but because they might reveal to you that, under everything you present to the world as you and yours, there lurks a “have not” who needs to be loved into freedom. Meditate on the Gospels with an eye for the “have nots” and the place they had in Jesus’ life and teaching. Listen within.
Engage in rituals of presence: Be consistent and regular, for example, in simply being physically still and silent for a period of time, preferably each day. Develop a suitable posture for being still and silent. Focus the inner world with a word repeated or an image held. In the Christian tradition, the Jesus Prayer offers one way – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Read, study, reflect: Fill your mind and imagination with thoughts and images of light, goodness and truth. Slowed down, reflective reading of the Gospels, alone or with others, is extremely valuable. In the Tradition this is called lectio divina. Medieval guides compared this kind of reading to savouring food. It leads naturally to the questioning and searching of meditatio, which in turn leads on to the wordless presence of contemplatio. We then return to the lectio with a little more openness and depth, and so a cycle of formation is promoted.
Immerse yourself in the liturgy: Rituals and symbols function in subtle and trans-rational ways. Place yourself “there,” submit to that subtle and trans-rational process. This may be done through the celebration of the Sacraments or praying the Prayer of the Church. The Eucharist is the Eucharist whether it is celebrated poorly or not. The same applies to the celebration of any of the Sacraments. This is the Church at worship, in all its beauty and ugliness. We who assemble around Him are the Church.
Communion: We are one with God, with ourselves, with others and with the events and things of our world – we just do not know it. For the most part we sleepwalk through life. Prayerfulness is waking up and staying awake. Prayerfulness is living in communion. Prayerfulness is presence, being in Love.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
1. What have you been taught about prayer?
2. Would you describe yourself as a prayerful person? Reflect.
3. Do you know anyone whom you would say was very prayerful? Explain.
4. What is your experience of asking yourself “open questions”? Reflect.
5. “Relationships are the very essence of human life.” Reflect on this statement.
6. What do you find most difficult in promoting a prayerful life?
7. What do you find most helpful in promoting a prayerful life?
8. Do you see a difference between “saying prayers” and “being prayerful”? Reflect.
9. What do you see as the connection between prayerfulness and “facing your issues”?
10. Reflect on the last statement: “Prayerfulness is presence, being in Love.”