Practice Being in the Presence
Frequently the news feed on my social media offers articles related to why people are choosing to leave the church along with related articles suggesting options for the institutional church. It is quite true that the increasing response to the question: “With which religious organization do you identify?” elicits the response “none”. This response is becoming true even for those more conservative denominations. It has long been true for those denominations that were once considered “mainline”. Whether we want to admit it or not we are becoming an increasing secular society.
That trend poses some problems moving forward. Where are we finding support for our values? How do we pass on these humanitarian values that are so often referenced? Where is the “why” behind the “what”? Religious institutions (church, synagogue, mosque) have long provided some of that background guidance through belief systems about God and how God envisions our lives in this world. When you take out God, what fills the void?
I’m suggesting that we not be so hasty to take God out of the equation of life. In fact I definitely believe we need the Holy One in our discourse and in our lives. I also realize that we have placed so much “baggage” on our understandings of God that we have in essence created an image of the divine as being a giant size version of ourselves. Or we have taken all the images of others throughout history and created an image that feels pretty irrelevant. We see the increase of private meditation exercises aimed at finding stress relief as the substitute for encountering the Holy One. Feeling good is becoming the highest value.
Before you choose the designation “none”, before you give up “searching”, before you become so intransient in your traditional beliefs you have no room to grow in your faith or hear other people’s doubts, I invite you in an ancient practice: Practice Being in the Presence of God.
This doesn’t require a theologian’s expertise in all the literature about the nature of God understood intellectually and doctrinally. All those efforts have value, but at the same time, they try to explain the unfathomable and tame the mysterious. Rather I am suggesting that as you move through any experience of the day, open yourself to the wondrous. Consider the wider picture. See the remarkable interrelatedness of life.
Example: washing dishes. The remnants of the food itself allows the mind to wander to food that was eaten and the sources of production. You might think about to the experience of fellowship and community or the gratefulness that someone invented a TV dinner that could be ready in a microwave in a short amount of time. You might consider the cooks or waiters that provided a restaurant experience or a food truck reprieve. If you are washing the dishes allow yourself to feel the water and realize that water is a precious commodity. You might even give a thought to situations such as that unfolding in Puerto Rico where clean water is scarce and some are even resorting to contaminated water. Prayers are always welcome along with thoughts about how you might help. That train of thought might even open possibilities about clean water everywhere and how the simple things we use as detergents and fertilizers can affect the quality of our water. This simple example illustrates how practicing the presence of God can work. Underlying the practice is an assumption (actually a faith declaration but it might not be admitted) that we are not single agents in the universe. Allowing ourselves to be open to practicing the presence means we begin to see the mystery of our world and the ways we are part of caring for one another. We begin to see we are custodians of our world. We begin to see how we fit into the bigger picture. And here we thought we were just washing dishes after dinner!
We live in a nation that is becoming more and more isolated in our connections with one another. We live in a nation that is trying to be spiritual without any Spirit or commitment to God. We live in a nation that talks more about one another than to one another. We live in a nation that is turning its back on “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself”. Sometimes we say we just don’t have time to go to church or to pray. Instead of giving it up entirely – go wash some dishes or rake some leaves or drive your commute in the presence of God. You might be surprised to encounter God in some very unexpected places!
Grace and Peace