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The Presence within Us

May 9, 2011

In the story of the Road to Emmaus Jesus effectively tells his disciples that he is present to them spiritually and that he is to be found not physically in external reality but in their own hearts and daily lived experience. 

     A famous Buddhist saying goes a step further, instructing believers: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  This is on one level an injunction against falling prey to false gods or prophets.  The deeper meaning relates to the word “buddha”, which is derived from a smaller word bud: “to awaken.”  Awakening is an interior event, not a physical entity we might encounter in the physical world.  Our awakening is a spiritual potential residing within us.

     In both traditions we are cautioned to vanquish temptations to externalize spiritual reality.  Externals must not be mistaken as ends in themselves.  Rather, they at best point us inward to the depths of religious experience.  Signs and signposts evaporate in the moment of authentic spiritual emergence.  Ultimately it is the scriptures of our lives — of lived experience — that open the doors to deepest reality.  Jesus asks his disciples to pay attention to, and to read, what is really happening inside them as they travel on the road of their current lives.

     In Opening the Hand of Thought Kosho Uchiyama suggests that “what we must do is open our eyes to present reality and start off with a totally naked self.  He recalls Rousseau’s Emile: “. . . every person, regardless of wealth or status . . . is born naked and poor, and when s/he dies, must die naked and poor.”  That naked self is not the self we usually live out of.  We try to cover ourselves, to be something other than more than we really are.  But, according to Uchiyama, “when we enter the world of spiritual practice we live out the reality of the life of the self.”  When we do so, “a power beyond words and ideas is at work.” 

     All spiritual teachers counsel us to live life just as we find it.  Our lived reality is the starting point of all spiritual practice.  This is what all meditation practice is about.  In silence and solitude and the environment of quiet meditation, we seek a sane way to live out the reality of our lives.  Of course, as Uchiyama points out, it is impossible to live outside of our personal reality of life.  But we try.  We lose sight of our actual life, and because of that we suffer and agonize about our lives.

     One person describes her spiritual encounter in prayer: It began with a reading of Isaiah 2:5, “O come, let us walk together in the light of Yahweh.”  She heard the words of scripture as a personal invitation and was led to reflect that: “Whenever I choose selfishly and am aware of this, I am being “real” with God.  In such cases my prayer is not a prayer but a true meeting with God/Jesus.”  What is real here is the person’s willingness to stay with and to reveal within the context of prayer what is happening in her life at this time:  “I spoke what was happening to me at that moment.  The context was . . . the day’s experience at this moment.  I was living what I was praying.  It felt so real — so me — so honest — genuine — a real encounter!” 

     The following great mystics remind us that our inner spiritual awakening is not the occasion of separating from the world of sense and physical presence.  The encounter with spiritual reality issues in a call to “put flesh” on our encounter, to become what we believe, thus offering to the world what we have received.



Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

       no hands but yours, no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which is to look out

       Christ’s compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet with which he is

       to go about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is

       to bless us now.



We awaken in Christ's body

as Christ awakens our bodies,

and my poor hand is Christ, He enters

my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully

my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

(for God is indivisibly

whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once

He appears like a flash of lightning.

Do my words seem blasphemous?—Then

open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one

who is opening to you so deeply.

For if we genuinely love Him,

we wake up inside Christ's body

where all our body, all over,

every most hidden part of it,

is realized in joy as Him,

and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything

that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,

maimed, ugly, irreparably

damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,

and radiant in His light

we awaken as the Beloved

in every last part of our body.

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Last updated: 11/25/10.