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Humility and Presence

Thursday, January 12, 2017


Humility and Presence
Thursday, January 12, 2017

Historically, most people naturally presumed that they would come to God by finding unique spiritual locations, precise rituals, special priests or shamans, or unique sacred words. Our correct behavior or morality around these manifestations would bring us to God or God to us. The majority of us began by looking for the right maps or laws, hoping to pass some cosmic test. The assumption was that if you got the right answers, God would like you. God’s love was highly contingent, and the clever were assumed to be the winners.

But the Bible does not make transformation dependent on cleverness at all; rather, transformation is found in one of God’s favorite and most effective hiding places: humility. Read the opening eight Beatitudes in this light (Matthew 5:1-12). Such “poverty of spirit,” Jesus says, is something we seem to lose as we grow into supposed adulthood.

We all need what Jesus described as the mind of a curious child (see Matthew 18:1-5). A “beginner’s mind,” which is truly open and living in the now or in what some call “constantly renewed immediacy,” is the most natural and simple path for all spiritual wisdom.

The genius of the biblical revelation is that we come to God through “the actual,” the here and now, or quite simply what is. The Bible moves us from sacred place (why the temple had to go), sacred actions (why the law had to be relativized), and mental belief systems (why Jesus has no check list in this regard)—to all space and time as sacred. At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NASB).

Space, time, and patience reveal the patterns of grace. This is why it takes most of us a long time to be converted. As Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) prayed, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” [1] Our focus eventually moves from preoccupation with perfect actions of any type, to naked presence itself. The historical word for presence is simply “prayer.” Jesus often called it “vigilance,” “seeing,” or “being awake.” When you are fully present, you will know what you need to know in that moment. Really!

As Eckhart Tolle points out in The Power of Now [2], you don’t have to be a perfect person or in a certain place to experience the fullness of God. God is always given, incarnate in every moment, and present to those who know how to be present themselves. Strangely enough, it is often imperfect people and people in quite secular settings who encounter “The Presence” (Parousia, “fullness”), more than overtly religious people preoccupied with doing their rituals correctly. That pattern is rather clear throughout the entire Bible where, except for Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, God-experiences are in “secular,” domestic, and nature settings.

The biblical text moves us toward transformation of both the self and all of history. Deep understanding of Scripture cannot happen until you have somehow first experienced God actively and lovingly working in your own life! Then it all makes sense. Without inner experience of God and grace, Scripture interpretation is often lethal and egocentric. As Paul courageously says, “The written letters alone bring death, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). [3]

Gateway to Silence:
Your word is a light for my path. —Psalms 119:105

[1] Teilhard de Chardin, “Patient Trust,” reprinted in Hearts On Fire: Praying with Jesuits, ed. Michael Harter, S.J. (Loyola Press: 2005), 102.
[2] Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Namaste Publishing: 2004).
[3] Richard Rohr paraphrase.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 8, 15-16.

Image credit: Antico triciclo per bambino (detail), May 2005.
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