A man in one state is asking about how to begin to practice the presence of God: “How do I practice, and for how long, and what should I read?” A woman in another state is asking how to gather people in a contemplative circle: “How do I find the people who are thirsty for God?” And local friends are emailing, texting, or pulling on my sleeve to ask: “When is the next contemplative class meeting?”
O my sisters and brothers, in your asking I feel your longing. I have the same longing in my heart. As I listen to you I know you are my people. We share a common hunger/thirst. We want the presence of God and we need to connect with others who want Presence. We need each other’s support and help.
I awakened this morning with an awareness I am holding these people in my heart. After bringing a check from our church to pay a schizophrenic friend’s light bill, and driving him to the office to pay it a day late, I got to practice the presence with thirty senior adults at Mercy Endeavors senior center yesterday. They had just finished two fire drills back to back. Shuffling out on their walkers or canes or wheel chairs. So when I invited the chime to begin our centering prayer we all fell into a deep silence. They were ready to “Be still” and “consent to God’s presence and action within.”
Then I got to practice God’s presence with Merry, Kerry, Morgan, and Martha at Loyola University. Merry led us with a short quote and a thought about Lenten practices. Then she invited the chime and we slowly fell into the Presence together for twenty minutes. We closed by speaking the Lord’s Prayer together and then sharing brief prayer requests.
Then I got to hold a ministry intern in my heart as she shared the constant pressure she feels to keep running through a packed schedule every day. I felt for her as she described her clear conviction that there is no room in her daily agenda for herself, (much less to be in God’s presence).
Then I got to hold a couple in my heart. They are new parents struggling with the gigantic transition brought on by the entry of a tiny human being into their world.
Then I got to be with our “outside friends” as our ecumenical group of volunteers shared shelter vouchers, toiletries, clothing, a meal, and listening ears with about 50 people living on the streets of New Orleans. Andrew, a new friend, admitted he loves to sing and spontaneously agreed to share a gospel song about wanting Jesus all the time. He brought God’s presence to me. The day closed back at the office with an angry father who might finally be ready to give up his marijuana addiction because the consequences have become too much.
How very, very blessed I am to be a contemplative missionary who gets to plant seeds of the presence of God in so many ways, with so many diverse people, every day. Even this very moment of blog writing has become another way to connect with people who also want to practice the presence of God. And in a little while the journey will continue with another centering prayer group at the Episcopal Advent House. Then we will study my book together. Then I will sit with several people for spiritual direction. Then we will close my day with another centering prayer group at my church, followed by two classes on contemplative practice.
O my sisters and brothers, in your longings I feel my own longing. Even when we forget, we are all ever standing at the gate of heaven together. Some of us are so blessed as to know what we are longing for. Others are struggling with the ravages of human life and don’t yet know what we most need. Either way, in reality we are knocking on the same door, waiting for the Joy on the other side to open up and welcome us in.
So I am calling all contemplatives to listen to your longing. Listen long. Listen true. The Gatherer is calling us into the very presence of God right now. The Teacher is drawing us into community so we can learn the contemplative path from each other. The Guide is already here, so to begin to get our daily instructions we need to be here too. The Lover is wooing us, shall we not respond?
Dear sisters and brothers, your longing is my longing and in this we are one.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, now available in a Kindle edition.