Friday, May 05, 2006

The Presence - Part I

The Presence

I have the sense that our lives are surrounded at all times by a personal, benevolent, loving Presence, a Presence that is pure, right, or true and that sees and knows. I can no more deny the reality of this Presence than I can the reality of my own existence. The sense of it is just as real.

I got up at 3:45 this morning to write this. I felt that I wanted to get up, that I was free to, that it would be good to record this observation, this sense I was experiencing and that is really the truth about what I always experience or feel.

This Presence leaves me with many questions, but there is a sense of joy that we get to have questions and that asking them is also all right. It is a good and natural thing, not to know and, therefore, to ask. But the not knowing is itself also just fine. One can rest in not knowing.

How It is for me

I say that I sense this, but I am also saying that I think that it is true for everyone in the world, all humans. Not that everyone senses it, or that I do all the time. But that it is true for them, for us. Everyone is at all times and in all places surrounded by this specific Presence.

I call it Ultimate Reality. I believe it is what human beings from the earliest dawning of human consciousness have called, in their various languages, God. We capitalize it because it is not just a power, a presence, but the Power, the Presence. It is the dominant, ultimate reality at the root of all things. I use the pronoun “It” for the Presence to avoid misunderstandings associated with the pronouns “he/she,” “him/her,” etc. But this “It” is utterly personal, not impersonal, not a mere “force.” Paul Tillich called it “the Ground of Being.”

I have come at this sense of the Presence through the Christian tradition, but I believe, though I cannot know this, that the Presence is accessible through other traditions. We like to say that “God has not left himself without a witness.” At this very moment, 4:22 AM PDT, someone in China, someone in India, someone in Africa, someone who is not a Christian, senses this Presence and knows that it is true and good.

It is also true that people flee from this Presence in fear, even in terror. This is because we recognize the enormous gap, the chasm, between our own lives, our flawed, selfish, and hurtful character, and the character of the One who surrounds us and is always there. And this difference causes us to be afraid. (Of course, if you have not yet realized this about yourself, you are not yet ready to be afraid. Be patient: you can still hope that it will come to you.)

The Hebrew Psalmist knew this Presence and his first thought was “Escape!”:
(Psalm 139:7-12) "7 Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence? 8 If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there. If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be. 9 If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn, and settle down on the other side of the sea, 10 even there your hand would guide me, your right hand would grab hold of me. 11 If I were to say, "Certainly the darkness will cover me, and the light will turn to night all around me," 12 even the darkness is not too dark for you to see, and the night is as bright as day; darkness and light are the same to you" (New English Translation).

The writer goes on to say that this Presence knows us and has always known us, from the very beginning of our biological existence, completely and thoroughly.

Yet once we realize, and I do not know how this happens, and for some people it apparently never happens, that this Holy Presence is good and intends our good, then opens the possibility that we might stop running, stop being afraid of the Presence, and submit to it.

Submission is the right word, because it is a matter of Will, our will, our way, our wanting, even thinking that we need, to be in control of everything about our own lives. The Presence lets us believe this and lets us try to live this way. The Presence knows that we will discover that it doesn’t work. Sooner or later we realize (though some may never do so) that this doesn’t work. Our way doesn’t work. The assertion of our will doesn’t work. We are unable to bend the universe to do our will. We cannot get our children, or our spouse, or the people we work with, to do our will. Maybe like the apostle Paul we discover that even we ourselves do not do our own will.
(Romans 7:15) "15 For I don't understand what I am doing. For I do not do what I want– instead, I do what I hate." (Romans 7:18-19) "18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I want to do the good, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but I do the very evil I do not want!" (New English Translation)

The problem, the very good problem, is that we are trying, without knowing it, to be the Presence. We are trying to be our own god. I am trying to be my own god. This is not good for us. It hurts us, but we keep on trying, until we die, or stop, and turn, and know the Presence, and submit to it, utterly and completely, with all our honest intention, submit to let the Presence be God and to do its will, in all things, at all times, and in all places, to do the will of the Presence.
(“Islam” means “submission, and a “Muslim” is one who submits.)

For most of us it takes all our lives to learn this. We must daily re-learn this submission, the submission of our will to the will of the Presence. A few fortunate ones apparently give up all resistance immediately, once and for all. And perhaps we all would do this much earlier and much more thoroughly if we knew how much we are loved and cherished by the Presence.

2 comments:

Amy said...

This is obviously written by a person who has contemplated these questions for a long time and has come up with a nuanced and complex approach. I say bravo! I'll be a committed commenter.

Sarah Hankerson said...

As always I can't guarantee that I will comment or respond on your blog very often. I tend to get consumed by what I am currently doing and forget all other things. I do promise to be honest and as direct as a MidWesterner can be.

The one thing that I don't like about this blog setup is my inability to see your writings as I comment. It would make things a lot easier if I could just look back over your essay one more time.

About the "Presence":
I find it interesting, as always, that people need to name this sense and to attach it to others. Why is not just enough to know that you have a sense of The Presence? Why does it have to be something that others just haven't recognized yet? I too have a strong feeling of inter-connectedness with the world around me and, if I am still, I can feel a sense of peace. But I don't understand why that quiet calm needs to be formalized.