Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
One of the gifts of writing for Journey and the Joy is the fact that it gives a person an opportunity to go places inside and to explore. It also encourages one to go deeper and to look more closely at life. Sometimes, it is almost like talking to a close friend.
Not so long ago, I did have a sharing with a close friend, a Sister who is esteemed by her community and who has had a full and productive life, giving herself with great dedication to the mission before her. We talked about the many people these days who wonder what their mission or purpose in life is, people who are occupied with the abiding quest for meaning. I asked my friend what she thought was her mission at this time. With a smile and a twinkle in her eye, she said, “Well, I go to bed at night and get up the next morning.” She paused a moment, and then quickly added something very profound. “As retired Sisters, we have been commissioned to devote our lives to prayer and presence.” This was the second time this Sister had mentioned “Prayer and Presence”.
It was this response that sent me meditating on the power of presence, the act of just being there for the other. Is this maybe what our world needs most at this time, at least the world close at hand? I have found that there are many occasions when one is called to extend a listening heart and to offer a healing and gentle presence. Truly, such a sincere and simple gesture is a going out from one’s self. It reminds me of the beautiful exclamation: “The God in me greets the God in you.” This would mean that, to the extent that one is able, one offers the presence of God to another. Without a whole lot of reflecting, most of us probably think we are just offering our own presence.
Here in the monastery, many calls, letters, emails and visits come to us from the many people who are carrying pain, worries, anxieties and struggles every single day. What an opportunity to offer presence! There seems to be a healing and an inner peace that appears when a person is able to share with another a burden one is carrying, often all by one’s self. Truly, sharing assuages one’s aloneness. The listener doesn’t even need to give a word of wisdom. Often, all that is called for is just some kind of indication that one has heard what the other has shared. We have also found that a certain kind of affect and awe seem to come upon the other person when we promise to pray for them. This is another mystery. Maybe it is because one feels the closeness of God when another offers to pray for us. I do think the prayer of caring and concern is powerful. There is a certain kind of Spirited love that is released. In a way, St.Therese, the Little Flower, was able to offer presence even from a distance.
Many Kinds Of Presence
As to the kinds of presence, there are many, including the presence of compassion and understanding, presence in the face of restlessness, loss of faith, questionings and longings. To prayer and presence, mentioned at the opening, I would be tempted to add the presence of acceptance, meaning to accept another unconditionally, just the way God accepts all of us.
John O’Donohue, in Eternal Echoes,1 points out that presence is the whole atmosphere of a person. It is more than the way a person walks, looks or speaks. It is the atmosphere of the spirit within a person. It is something one senses, but cannot grasp. Even when a person is shy and retiring, presence comes through.
O Donohue treats the different kinds of presence in detail. 2 One, of course, is the presence of encouraging. He points out that when someone encourages us, we are often able to cross a threshold we might never have crossed on our own. Encouragement also helps us trust and awaken the latent strength within us. It helps us discover new frontiers. Another presence is that of evoking longings. The presence of evoking longings can help another person find and uncover his, or her, own hidden longings. Longings have a way of showing themselves when we are confronted with difficulties, suffering and aloneness. Of course, the listener does not know beforehand that this awareness is going to come about.
While writing this reflection, I came across a tender story that, in a hidden way, exemplifies the power of a silent and feeling presence. Leo Buscaglia, author and lecturer, was once asked to serve as judge in a contest. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four-year-old boy. The neighbor next door to the family had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the elderly gentleman crying, the child ran over and sat on his lap. Later, the child’s mother asked him what he said to his friend. “Nothing,” the boy replied. “I just helped him cry.” 3
1 John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1999) pp.53-54.
2 Ibid. See Chapter 2, Presence: The Flame of Longing , pp.51-97.
3 See: Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen, A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc., 1996) p.12.
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