Practicing Presence

I am so easily distracted! I find it so hard to be where I am without being seven other places at once. I sit down in church, and while the hymn is being sung, I am looking ahead at what is next, or noting how well the worship leader is executing the ritual, or remembering that when I get home, I need to make a phone call. When I am on the phone, often I am doing a crossword puzzle or folding laundry. Too many times when I leave one room to do something there I have forgotten what the point of my journey was by the time I get there.

The Summer Shuffle has begun in my life–people arriving, people leaving, for awhile or permanently; schedules are upended or shortened; new things like summer camps, summer concerts and summer bargains are stirred in to the mix. Nothing in this shuffle helps my distracted heart. I have found myself longing for focus, a way in which I can claim my Biblical ancestors by saying, with the apostle Paul, “This one thing I do!” or in company with Mary of Bethany, “One thing is necessary!”  While I was on retreat last week, I realized how much choice I have in letting distraction wield the power over my attentiveness and presence.  The safety and confines of a retreat center tone down the externals–not much traffic, no phones, no TVs or radios. The rubric of the retreat house is to keep a gentle silence, wear soft shoes, leave those who long for it in silence. Routinely I put myself there to get that kind of an assist on my journey.

The bigger challenge is all the commotion in my heart and brain. So with help from the wisdom of saints and angels who have gone before me, I am taking as my summer prayer the practice of Presence, a spiritual practice held by  many other spiritual traditions. I understand it to be choosing to be fully engaged with the Holy One in the place I find myself now. So right now as I write this, my body, mind and spirit are focused on this writing. Then when I go pack for my trip, I will be focused on the list and equipment that are necessary. Tonight when I go stay with my grandchildren, I will really be with them in the laughter, the bedtime rituals, and the delighting. It sounds so simple when I put it on the screen; I know it requires attention, patience with my wandering consciousness and persistence.

Three windows inviting my presence to the Presence of the Holy. First, I want to be present to the PLACE that I am. I have long trusted that there is no place I can go in this earth that is outside the circle of God’s care. “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there, your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” (Ps. 139:9-10) I want to be able to echo Jacob when he says, “Surely God is in this place…”

I also want to be present with the ONES I AM WITH, not checking my phone, scoping out the room, thinking about the next encounter when the one the Spirit brings is offering me this time and this moment with him.Each woman, man. and child is a miracle of life that is not repeated; will I be able to be present enough to recognize it?

And I want to be present to MYSELF, something that is harder to do than I ever imagined. Beyond all the rich visions I am given in the natural world, beyond the beauty of the Word and wise commentary on it, beyond the urgent cries of the world, I want to know where and how I am savoring and listening to Holy Presence in me, with the prayer, “Loving God, here I am.”

There is plenty to do in this world, but this summer I am called to watch the hummingbird (in Calvin’s second book of revelation, nature), not to be one!

 

About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who writes on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture, and what is happening in the world--hers, her neighborhood, the Church and the world. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.

  • Barbara Cairns

    awesome reminder of how we need to be still and know.. thanks. blessings for the summer:)

  • Barbara Anderson

    This is great. In my prayer group this week, none of us could stay focused on our prayers. In worship, I kept wanting to leave and do the other things that were running through my mind. While driving this week, I can barely sit still and focus for all the things I am thinking about at the same time. Perfect timing, Elizabeth.


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