I am in the middle of a three part reflection: “The art of being thankful” “The Gift of being present,” and “the Responsibility of being alive.” With this week’s reflection on my mind I have intentionally been conscious of what it means to be present. The topic also inspires reflection upon a whole lifetime of sharing community and life with others – remembering what it was like when they were present – and the difference in life when they were not.
With this topic in mind, I was not expecting its application as I drove home from Indianapolis last Sunday having delivered Sawyer’s dog to him after one year of being with us. Driving home, entering the house, returning to the rituals and habits of daily life, with Samson’s absence has been felt deeply in our home. The gift of Samson’s presence was gone. It is the price we all accept, right? The price of opening and sharing life with another allows us to receive and be blessed by the gift of their presence, but it also puts us in line for the deep wound of loss when they are absent.
Few of us are aware of what our presence means in the world and time in which we live. Our lack of consciousness and awareness causes us to not see, to not feel, to not accept the power and gift we represent just by being present. The bedrock of the Christian faith and tradition is the gift of God being present with us. The power and meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was God’s incarnation in the flesh. It wasn’t enough to send a message through prophets. It wasn’t enough to send instructions through the law. It wasn’t enough to send signs and miracles from on high. The divine gift of redemption was fully manifested by being present – being seen – being touched – being in community – being available, approachable, vulnerable. And that is why in the wake of the life of Jesus, there was not just writings left. There was not just a philosophy or a memory that remained. What remained was a community destined to continue, to come together and be present for one another and with one another. To maintain, in the flesh, the sacred rituals that manifest and remember God’s eternal presence with us, love for us, and redemptive embrace of all creation.
I think we all are wondering where our technological advances are bringing us as a species. Certainly, modern progress and advancements have greatly enhanced and improved our lives. But, a bargain, an exchange is being struck. With the proliferation of e-commerce we are diminishing the local marketplace. With the rise of non-personal communication via mobile devices we have diminished real and present interaction. The need, and therefore the gift, of being present is being exchanged for the convenience of virtual access. And we all are increasingly aware of even when we are physically present, attention and interaction is diverted to mobile devices. The increasingly common observation of walking into a room where most if not all are engaged elsewhere on cell phones rather than interacting with one another is a little disturbing if not alarming. The gift of being present is being lost, I fear. And it seems to be happening with little concern and no resistance. I believe it can be traced back to the reality that few of us realize the significance of our being here, and being with those to whom we have been given.
Annie and I made a decision a few years ago to get an early start on the Swedish tradition of “death-cleaning” a conscious and gradual effort to simplify and declutter as senior years approach. It appealed to me on a number of levels. I have never been one to need a lot of stuff, or be responsible for a lot of space. In addition to smaller house we also made a decision to delay buying a second car for the past two years. There have certainly been challenges and inconveniences with this conscious change of life-style. But, I think the pay off, the gift of these decisions, is the increase of being present with one another, and for one another.
Long before we moved here close to amish country, Annie and I participated in a small group that read a book entitled, “Plain and Simple.” The author was a New York business woman who became enamored with Amish quilts. She ventured to immerse herself in the culture from which the quilts were made. By reading the book, I learned that many of the reasons why the Amish choose to be separate were not so much religious or exclusionary, but it was for the sake of community. They are a culture that recognizes and preserves the gift of presence. The gift of being here, now, fully engaged with the people and land that they have been given to love and steward.
The power and gift of being present is the attention of many popular spiritual movements. Eckhart Toelle’s, “The Power of Now” remains a best–selling book after two decades. The call and commandment to be in community, with one another, loving one another, praying for one another, serving one another, responding on behalf of one another’s needs, and together offering the love we have cultivated to the world in which we live is the founding and sustaining tenet of the church community. It is also scripture’s template for a blessed and joyful life at home, marketplace, and city. Being present, being available, being engaged with the few and intentionally limited community of people to which we have been given is a gift. It is why we are here together with our others. To be. And to be something, together. We must all make the effort to not undervalue the gift we bring by simply being present and engaged. We must also not discount the loss and void that is felt by all, when we are absent. Amen.