Being Present and God's Presence
My kids will sometimes frustratedly cry out: "You're not listening to me". Inwardly I'll panic admitting to myself that indeed I haven't been and I quickly scan back over key words in the conversation trying to convince them that I was kind of there. Being present to oneself can be a challenge and being present to others can be too. It’s often far easier to live in our minds, whizzing around our well-worn mental loops rather than being present to ourselves, others and also to God.
How has the pandemic impacted us?
The pandemic has forced many of us to be more present to ourselves as we've been restricted from activity, work and outside distractions. Locked down in our homes, in our own company has been put upon us. Some people have found it easier than others. Being with ourselves can sometimes be disappointing or painful. I had one friend relay the realisation that they ‘weren't quite as lovely’ as they thought they were as they grew in self-awareness. When we are without distractions and have fewer demands, we have to learn how to just be, to simply be present, and this reveals to us who we are, warts and all. Whilst it can be a challenge to face oneself it can also be a huge relief. Instead of running and avoiding we can be present (or listen to) to ourselves and in turn find God’s presence.
The bible teaches us to come to God as we are, without pretence and in acknowledgment of our brokenness. God knows our hearts and minds in any case and accepts us when we come honestly. However, many Christians bypass real acknowledgement of their brokenness, finding busyness or denial easier. Or alternatively, we can jump the gun by firing off fine-sounding prayers in order to avoid pain, brokenness (and sin). Prayer used in this way can be a tactic to avoid being present to ourselves and therefore by default to God. As a result, we can find ourselves unable to perceive God’s presence. I believe that when we are present to ourselves, God becomes perceivably present to us.
I have found mindfulness practice a really helpful way of being present as well as a way of bringing healing and also change. But it starts by being truly present to oneself and then to God. Settling into a comfortable sitting position and bringing my awareness to the immediacy and now-ness of my breath, I'll then bring my awareness to my body. I'll just 'listen' to it, acknowledging sensations that are present, like I'm listening to a friend telling me how they are. It's really quite interesting how out of touch with our bodily self we can be. Then I spend time listening to what else is present: what thoughts keep pressing for my attention, which emotions are rising up. There'll often be a general 'mood' that describes my body-mind-soul being (relaxed, uptight, expectant, heavy etc) and I simply acknowledge this (avoiding the rush to articulate a prayer - which can be the temptation!). Ultimately, I’ll bring my awareness to God who is already present with me. I acknowledge all of my being and acknowledge God being with me.
As a teenager I used to enjoy staying with my grandmother who wasn’t afraid of silence and simply being with her as she knitted or cooked. It offered a peaceful presence, one where nothing was asked of me and I was accepted as I was. It was special, it was healing. Similarly with God, as I hold in my awareness all that is present in me (the good, the bad, the ugly), I allow Him to hold these things and also to hold me. I've come to realise that when I am present to myself, that God’s presence is more apparent, or rather that I'm better able to perceive it. I rarely sense a Divine demand to get up and 'do something' or even pray with words, but God’s very presence is a healing and refining one. As I am truly present, so too is God present. Or as the psalmist says: ‘deep calls to deep’. I let go of the things that are broken (a way of practising repentance) and allow God’s presence to help and heal.
Why not take 2 minutes or more right now to practise this?
Firstly, be present to yourself. Bring your awareness to your breath, then to your body, then to thoughts, emotions and moods that are present within you.
Secondly, acknowledge GOD’S PRESENCE, allowing all that is present in yourself to be present to God.
Lastly, as you are simply present to God, with God, allow God’s presence to simply be with you. Be open to how His presence might enable you to let go of things and also offer you peace and healing.
This last part is what we might call a holy-exchange and is not prescriptive, so simply be and allow God’s presence to be whatever it might be to you.
Olivia integrates her Theology (MA Oxon) and Christian Spirituality MA with the meditation classes that she teaches.
She has four children and a husband with severe sight disability and loves getting to the heart of things.