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December 26, 2011

   Any particular thing – be it an act, a thought, an image, a tool, and art object – can be a transcendent pointer to the mystery of formation.  A single drop of dew, a leaf on a tree, the petal of a rose – each reflects infinite mystery.  Presence in simplicity or poverty of spirit prepares us to heed the mystery in a single snowflake, ceramic, symphony, or flower.  Food and drink are savored, not merely consumed.  Our mind becomes like a motionless mountain lake, pure, and clear.  We are ready to reflect all things as they are without exalting them positively or negatively, without distorting them by manipulation

     Simplicity directs our attention with tranquility of mind to whatever appears in our formation field.  We simply enjoy that it is.  We sense an inner completeness, infused by the formation mystery, in each thing we encounter.  We grasp the special indwelling of the mystery in the particular and we stand in awe of its myriad ways.  Our emptied mind comes to rest in the specifics of the formation mystery in each of its appearances.  When the moment of simple presence is upon us, we leave behind categories and projects and want to savor transcendent meanings.

     Simplicity is like a song: let everything simply be; let it announce wordlessly the mystery of its own form, its wondrous particularity.  In simple appreciation, time is experienced moment by moment as the treasure it is.  Things do not become an occasion for contest but an opportunity for disclosure.  We begin to experience the unity at the basis of the formation field, a fusion of time and space.  One thing mirrors the other, yet remains distinct.  We experience each form in its particularity as well as in its connection with every other form, with the cosmic, human, and transhuman epiphanies of the mystery.

(Adrian van Kaam, Formation of the Human Heart, pp. 41-2)

We have spoken of three dimensions of human presence: we can be present to the Mystery of Formation that we call God (that is to be open and present to the Mystery that is always and already present to us); we can be self-present (aware and attentive to the mystery of our own being and of the dynamics of our own presence); and we can be present to others, reflecting to others the presence of the Mystery to us.  In the passage above, van Kaam affirms our potential to presence to whatever is emerging in our field of formation in our moment-to-moment existence.  Everything “points” to the Mystery.  We could say, as Shakespeare wrote, that “there are tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones.”  Everything speaks!  Every manifestation of reality is revelatory.  It all depends on our simple presence and receptivity .

     Presence and receptivity, however, are not simple achievements on our part.  We struggle with blocks of one sort or another as we try to open ourselves in receptivity to the presence of mystery in our lives, and as we attempt to care appropriately for ourselves and others.  Being present, far from being simple, is a high wire act on the scale of our human form-ability: almost everything else we do and are comes more easily to us than being simply present.  Moreover receptivity may sound passive, but in actuality an act of presence is an accomplishment brought about by the activity of our spiritual nature.  The spiritual level of our mind and will are fully engaged when we are being present.  Joy comes not from passivity but from connection – to self, to creation, to others, and to the Mystery.

     The passage from Adrian van Kaam recommends appreciation as one of the keys available to us in transforming our presence.  The disposition of appreciation counters a primary issue in human formation; namely, the deep-seated inclination to take what is given for granted.  Everything van Kaam mentions in this passage – flowers, food, drink, art objects, tools, trees, leaves, etc. – can be assessed from the perspective of the fallen state of our formation, assuring that there will be no radiance, no pointing toward transcendent presence and meaning.  Our closed-down vision is essentially depreciative in that it reduces or negates the value of All-That-Is.  Instead of enjoying “all-that-is” and “that we are,” objects and beings become commonplace to us; we grow bored and unimpressed by their familiarity.  In appreciation, however, dullness of mind and autarchic vision give way to our capacity for gentle “rest in the specifics of the formation mystery in all of its appearances.”  Everything is allowed “to be,” to manifest the light of its individual presence.

     With this experience comes the awareness of each moment as the treasure it is.  We begin to experience the unity at the basis of our formation field and the interconnectedness of all forms.  As a result, our life and surroundings feel unified rather than fragmented.  The Buddhists refer to the reality of interconnectedness as “inter-being.”  When we are truly present we can say of each human encounter:  “You make me be; I make you be.”

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