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January 16, 2012

In the last reflection we noted that we ourselves may be obstacles to spiritual presence.  The “self” that hinders our full presence to reality is an accumulation of experiences that lead us to develop depreciative habits and dispositions.  Depreciative habits and dispositions inhibit our capacity for simple appreciation.  For example, when we step back in gentle reflection on our relationships with others, we can begin to appraise the quality of our presence to them in our ordinary moment to moment encounters.  Such reflection may reveal to us how “cautious” we are in relating to others; that is how we limit our presence to what feels to be a safe distance from the life and experience of others.  We may then recognize how busy we are under the surface of our “meeting” to keep the encounter with the other safely controlled.  Caution is valid to some degree to protect what is most vulnerable and unique in us.  But we are concerned here with the effect on our presence of being overly cautious, of moving away from the unique life and experience of others when we could be moving more in tune with them.  Our reflection might also indicate that we tend to move toward the other too much, losing ourselves by fusing (and confusing) our identity with theirs.  Or, we might discover that we limit our presence by most often moving against others, aggressively trying to control or manipulate others into the  service of our project or agenda.  As we become, again through gentle reflection, aware of the ways we delimit our true presence to others, we may ask ourselves to imagine what it would be like to be present to others in a different way, how we would behave and experience our lives if we allowed ourselves to be more fully present to self, others, and God.

     Recently a friend died who was a creative and gifted pastor of a local church.  Near the end of his life, he wrote a touching and sincere letter to his parishioners in which he apologized to any whom his shyness, which could have been interpreted as aloofness, might have hurt.  As we consider our lives and our ways of being in the world, of the habits of mind and heart that we live by, we become aware of the ways that our presence is inhibited.  Reflecting with gentleness and compassion on the quality of our own presence helps us recognize how it is limited by those “security directives” that manifest themselves in our careful measuring out of our time, our availability, and our simple openness to others.  We begin to see how our unique ways of being present and relating to others are also ways of keeping a safe distance from them.  The unconscious ways in which we keep our distance from others and from the world contribute to our painful experiences of loneliness and separation.  The contours of our unique ways of being present constitute the limits we impose on our presence to and thus intimacy with the Other in all of its forms: our own deeper selves, the human other, the world in all its manifestations and the omnipresent Divine Mystery.

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