January 30, 2012
habits we have formed to keep the world at a distance are
depreciative ones which inhibit our appreciative presence and
our trusting abandonment to the Mystery that creates us.
This being the case, one way we can work to decrease the
hold of those depreciative habits inhibiting our presence is to
The conversion of our depreciative way of seeing and
experiencing the world to a more appreciative one requires of us
a reckoning with our painful experiences of loss.
How can we come to appreciate the world and God when our
experience of life constantly confronts us with contingency and
limit, with the loss of those who are dearest to us, and finally
with our own diminishment and death?
The only way is to learn how to remain present to, and
then appropriate and trust our experiences of loss, loneliness,
and disappointment and the painful feelings which these
experiences evoke in us.
Since our first
experiences of loss occurred before we were able to reflect
on and understand them, we were unable to do anything but endure
them. We developed
strategies to avoid such experiences and to dissociate from the
painful feelings they generated.
We developed our own unique ways of being present (and
not present) that would filter out those aspects of experience
that caused such suffering for us.
These became habits of partial presence, a way of being
in the world that
we hoped could avoid those aspects of life which seemed
unbearable to us.
For example, we might learn to limit our openness to and care
for another so that we should not be so disappointed or pained
when we lose them or are disappointed by them.
stance before others and the world is largely constituted by
fear. We distance
and dissociate from others due to our lack of trust in them, in
the world as a whole,
and in its Creator.
The first letter of John (1 John 4:18) recognizes this
truth when it proclaims:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out
fear . . . .” Love
is the willingness to be present to the situation and the other
whom we encounter in each moment, to respond and engage in
trust. In this
trusting and open presence we increasingly experience our lives,
according to Adrian van Kaam, as “assignment, task, mysterious
call” and we stand ready before the summons to our originality
that is inherent in each life situation.
Since there is
always distance and evasion in our habitual modes of
non-presence, one way we can work to reform them is to try to
increase our level of involvement and engagement throughout the
moments of our day.
We can go to a museum and spend time with just a few paintings
to try to learn how to see more fully what is before us.
We can take slow walks and attentively observe nature and
the world around us beyond our manifold reactions at the sensual
and emotional levels.
We can take the time to wash and dry the dishes, clean
our homes, or fold our laundry carefully, actually experiencing
all that such ordinary experiences evoke in us.
We can make an effort to let go of all the extraneous
thoughts and demands for our attention that distract us when
another person is speaking to us and attempt to be fully present
and responsive to him or her.
In short, we can attempt to practice greater mindfulness
or recollection from moment to moment.
As spirit we are a capacity to receive reality in its wholeness.
At the level of our rational-functional capacity,
however, we are a limited and partial presence.
Our fearfulness of the dimension of mystery leads us to
focus on those elements we can manage and control and to filter
out those that we fear are beyond our functional capacities.
To be present at the level of spirit, thus requires of us
a disciplining of the arrogance of our managing selves, a
humility to recognize the partiality of our presence and
and detachment create a space for greater presence, an opening
in which our spirit can allow the other to show itself to us on
its own terms. This
requires a conversion, a turning away from our reliance on our
habitual modes of presence to an appreciative abandonment to a
way of being present that is trustingly unknowing, a trusting
more in God’s wisdom than our own.