The Presence within Us
May 9, 2011
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
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
Signs and signposts evaporate in the moment of authentic
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
I was living what I was
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.
SAINT TERESA OF AVILA (1515-1582)
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.
SYMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN (949—1022)
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.