“The most holy and important practice in the spiritual life is the Presence of God – that is, in every moment [taking] great pleasure that God is with you.”Presence. When I looked up synonyms for “presence” the following words were given: attendance, occurrence, charisma/aura, and ghost/spirit. As I use the word here, I am doing so in the same manner as Brother Lawrence: I speak of the Gift of the Presence of God. In and through Baptism and Faith, we have been given a few promises from God. To name but a few – eternal life (John 5:24), all things working for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28), and that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:20).
Present. When I looked up the synonyms for “present” this is what is given: there/here/near; current/present-day; and gift/offering.
Both words are beautiful in their apt description of God: He is a very Present help in our time of need and His Presence is faithful and forever. The Presence of God is Present and a Present.
That above stated reality reminds me of a phone call I received last year from one of my brothers, Kevin, telling me another of my brothers, Kenny who has struggled most of his life with severe mental illness and addiction, had been found on the street unconscious. At the time they both lived in Roanoke, Virginia – a lovely small city in southwestern Virginia. Both of these brothers struggled hard with life for over 6 years. Kenny had been homeless and self-medicating a debilitating reality called Paranoid Schizophrenia.
I went to visit Kenny in the hospital only to find out that he had also been diagnosed with cancer and that it had spread to his lungs, brain and stomach. We three brothers spent the day together along with 2 of my nieces, just hanging out and talking and telling goofy family stories (funny how when someone is about to die we all of sudden remember the good times). Kenny died when I was about half way home on my four hour trip.
I know Cancer quite well. Cancer has had a say in the death of my mom, my maternal grandmother, my great grandmother, and my aunt: Five women and three generations…and now add to that list a brother. And Kenny had already been dealing with schizophrenia, addiction, homelessness and the pain of childhood abuse, so his life has been far from peachy.
Which leads me to this: How do we speak to the gift of God’s Presence to someone, not only hurting so badly, but so incapacitated as to possibly not even comprehend it?
When I sat by my brother’s bedside knowing he was not even sure if I was really his baby brother or another hospital staff member, I kept asking myself, how do I speak of the love of God? Or of the comfort of the God of all comfort to him?
The answer that came to me in a whisper is: we don’t. We just sit there, be with the suffering one. And it was a lesson in pure powerlessness to just sit there with him deeply. I knew God was with me and with Kenny during that time. I knew the words of the Lord Jesus, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” I knew then and I know now that God is faithful, for God cannot ‘not’ be faithful.
So the reasoning within went something like this: when I was with my brother, God was Present there with him in his pain, in his clouded altered state. God was the ever-Present Presence in that time of need. It was a radical learning experience of the truth that God comforts us so that we in turn can offer comfort to others.
This is what compassion is and means: to be with others in their pain. Compassion cannot nor does not take away another’s pain. Compassion literally means to “suffer with.” So in that moment with Kenny, I prayed that the God of Compassion would fill me with divine compassion and give me the patience to sit in one of the most powerless and yet powerful positions. I was unable to do a single thing – I could not then and I cannot now heal people and yet I was in the most powerful of places, for it is precisely when pure powerlessness occurs that God’s power can freely flow.
God may not come into the picture and cure the person, but God can come and bring healing to him. It is vital to learn that healing and curing are not the same thing…one can occur without the other. We may not find a cure for our ills or pains, but God in infinite compassion can bring some level of healing to our woundedness.
May we learn from our powerlessness that it is at that very time the power of God enters us. May we learn the power of Presence (without having to fix or cure). May we learn to get out of the way and act as a conduit of the love of Jesus. May we all be so filled with the Spirit that we become the very embodiment of God’s compassion, and so resemble the beautiful likeness of Abba and thereby offer the world the promise of God's Presence.