Seven of us were blessed to visit with Father Ephrem Arcement after the mass at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, Louisiana, yesterday. He has been a friend of our School for Contemplative Living for years and has presented from books he has written several times. Ephrem shared his new article on the importance of contemplatives practicing and sharing presence in a culture that has preferenced human contact through devices.
He explained that presence includes our attentive awareness of the presence of God in our daily lives and our need to stay present to each other in community. He spoke of the challenges of current American politics in which listening to each other and empathy are becoming rare, and of the freedom some are feeling to use hate speech openly for anyone with whom they disagree. But Ephrem never stays focused on the negative side of current events.
He shifted the discussion to the importance of how we personally choose to behave. He caused me to wonder if I am actively living out my own calling as a contemplative who emphasizes Presence daily. Am I speaking more about Presence or about the wrong behaviors I judge in others? And what if I increased my daily time of practicing the presence of God to at least match the time I spend listening to the news on NPR as I drive to and from work? That would mean I commit to an hour a day as a minimum.
I had a taste of that hour of presence today when I walked to the end of our pier, around the screened gazebo, and stretched out across the wood planks at the far end. I stared straight up into the sky, and really noticed the brilliant blue hues and the brightness of the spring green cypress leaves. I closed my eyes and listened to the tree frogs, bull frogs, woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees calling, and whistling ducks flapping their wings as they bathed at the edge of our swamp.
I slowly let go of all doing and practiced simple being. It was delicious. It helped soothe my soul that is troubled by seeing the many ways our country is on fire and disintegrating. I think I will decide right now to practice better self-care by dedicating more time each day to practicing presence, alone and with friends.
Thanks be to God our School is blessed with superb presenters at our monthly workshops or retreats who help us find our way into presence. Rodger Kamenetz and Marian Gay will lead a workshop on “Dreams and the Sacred Encounter” this Friday evening. (You can still pre-register on our website at http://www.thescl.net). Then Lara Naughton will lead a workshop/retreat on “Cultivating Self-Compassion” on April 22.
Ephrem will lead a May 20 workshop/retreat on “Four Trajectories for Contemplatives in the 21st Century.” There he will surely share more about practicing presence. Jenny Heil will lead a June 24 workshop/retreat on lectio divina called “Reading is Believing.” And Susan Rush will lead the annual centering prayer retreat August 4-9 to help us immerse ourselves in contemplative presence.
We have some exciting news for December 1-2. Father Richard Rohr will return to New Orleans to share his views on how the Trinity wants to flow through us from his book: The Divine Dance! We are so grateful that despite rarely traveling away from his Center for Action and Contemplation these days, Father Richard has agreed to return and guide us once again in the art of uniting contemplation and action.
If you are also drawn to a life of practicing presence, come join us for our weekly groups and monthly workshop/retreats. We need each other’s presence and this world surely needs us to practice Presence as a community. Let’s begin now!