One of the hardest things to be in life is present. Our mind has a way of having obsessive thoughts, paranoia, living in anxiety, and being defensive. In being present, it’s not that we aren’t wounded (in fact, we are more likely to face this much more consciously), but we don’t look for ways to evacuate our soul, or look for ways to extrovert the moment. A person cannot change unless they’re aware. And, one cannot be aware unless they’re present. To be present means to own all of who I am. Only in presence can we learn that all of life can be grace. And, to live by grace, as Brennan Manning has so beautifully said, is to “acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”
My work with mentally handicapped people has brought me into the reality of presence even more greatly. Everyday, I am exposed to a grown man who finds such great delight in talking to his mom that he cries tears of joy. And, in the next moment when I have to ask him to do something, he risks being vulnerable enough to say, “Mike, are you mad at me?” He is present with who he is, what he thinks, and how he feels. A person who is present doesn’t worry about things like failure, or rejection… And, if they do, they are present enough to deal with the pain of it. I experience this reality every day.
As Paula D’Arcy has beautifully said, “God comes to you in the shape of your life.” If we are not present to our lives, we will surely miss God. If we are too preoccupied with the noise of our thoughts, the sounds of the world, as Thomas Merton reminds us, we will never find the true language of God, silence. It is hard work to accept things as they are, to accept that God accepted all that is right in front of us. Instead, we try our absolute best to avoid this and to daydream (which is an evasion of reality) about a world that we imagine to be better. Presence will be the only way we can accept and hopefully begin to love everything that is.