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I’m beginning to think we need more conscious practice for being present to persons.
Though I know that you are a deep mystery and a unique, unrepeatable reality, you enter my space as an object in the environment and I often do not register your presence at all. This is a sad state of affairs, exacerbated by the speedy pace of life, the isolation of persons in cars and suburbs, the barely-there transactional symbology that counts as ‘communication,’ and other obvious factors of reality that I can’t change.
What can I change? What can I suggest to help along this ‘practice of the presence of persons’?
- Prayer before coming into the presence of others. “Dear God, please help me to be fully present to those I am about to encounter, to believe you have arranged for me to meet with the particular individuals who are present, to resist my own inward resistance to showing real heart hospitality to them, and to place my interest truly into the essence of who each person is and yearns to be. And Lord, please help me remember their names!” (I am so bad at this!) “Please bless our time together, help us to edify and encourage one another, and remain undistracted by other concerns during our visit. Please come into the space between us to unify us for your greater glory.”
- Courtesy. I think we should resurrect the courtesy of formal greeting and leave-taking. I’m trying to move into a “Grace and peace to you” format that I usually forget as greetings take a much more casual turn and the moment is lost. I love getting and giving good-bye hugs, but still stand there wondering if I’ll seem foolish, old-lady-ish, or overly personal if I lunge forward with a hug someone doesn’t want. Still, if you come to my Open House, please say hello on arriving and good-bye on leaving, please. And I’ll do the same when we all meet for book groups or meetings or whatever.
- Be affected. I need to do more than see you. To be present to you is to receive you into my own being and to be affected by you, there. I can’t be present to you without that opening that allows you entrance and makes me somewhat vulnerable to you. I hope I can look into your eyes and that you’ll see yourself loved in mine. I need to do more than hear you. You need to sound in me so that I resonate with you, mirror your movements and expressions, sense the meaning beneath the message on the surface. Just the other day, as I was listening to a friend and being deeply affected by him, one word he said in passing seemed to reverberate in me. I couldn’t shake the sense that this word held much more meaning for him and, as it turns out, it sure did! When I asked why that word was somehow very important or meaningful to him, out came the stories and the emotions elicited by them. It was fascinating to experience the reality that one word could ‘carry’ so much ‘weight’. He hadn’t realized it himself, but as we explored it together it was clear that God had helped my own heart be troubled with a message meant for his healing. What a delicate, lovely instrument the open, affect-able heart is!
Naturally, I am very much interested in your thoughts about how we can better practice the presence of persons. Please let me hear from you!