Recently I have been thinking a lot about presence. Current interest in mindfulness bombards us with reminders about the importance of being present. But presence isn’t something we can turn off and on like a faucet. We are all shadowed by a presence that we may know little about but which enters the room before us and often lingers after we leave. And then there is the Christian emphasis on the presence of God. Many of us long to live with awareness of Divine Presence. And so I wonder how that relates to my being present, and possibly to my presence.
What can I say about this concept of presence that seems to cover so many dimensions of life – from the comforting presence of a loved one, to the evocative presence of a sacred space, to the distinctive presence of a home or the plethora of presences that confront us on entering an art gallery or walking through a shopping mall?
First, I’d have to say that presence makes life meaningful. The search for meaning is really a search for presence because grand systems of truth or meaning can never satisfy the basic human longing for life to be meaningful. Without presence, nothing is meaningful. But in the luminous glow of presence, all of life becomes saturated with significance. In part, this is because only in presence is encounter possible. Others may be present to us but we will not notice their presence until we ourselves are present. But once we are truly present, everything that has being becomes potentially present to us.
I long to live with more presence. And I long to know the presence of God more deeply in my life. At my present stage of the journey there are few things I value more than encounter. I long to learn how to make myself more available for them. And I am convinced that these things are all connected – that somehow my presence is essential to an encounter with the presence of anyone or anything – especially, the presence of the One who is the ground of being and the source, therefore, of presence.
Adapted from my forthcoming book Presence and Encounter
(Brazos Press – September, 2014) ©Dr. David G. Benner
photo by Jack Low/Tumblr