Monday, September 14, 2009

presence part 2

As I was beginning my life transition from an occupier of corporate space to pastoral artist, one of my professors imparted some wisdom which was so subtle it almost was not consciously caught. Not catching this piece of advice would have been tragic for my new life’s calling. Very simply, somewhere in a conversation that I don’t even specifically remember he advised that, for all the academics and theories and scholarly answers, sometimes the best thing that you can do is just to “be there”. In fact I think it was actually “be there and shut up”. How’s that for thousands of dollars of tuition well spent? How many times had I already been told to just “sit there and be quiet” for free? My own kids probably could earn doctoral credit for the amount of times that I shared that bit of wisdom on them.
His voice has saved me and served me on too many occasions to mention. All of those grief experiences that I’ve shared through the years with people; the inexplicable deaths, and the ones we saw coming…wayward children, wayward spouses, natural disasters. When words would have been so idiotic, inappropriate and hollow, silent presence became great wisdom, and apparently valued comfort.
It becomes even more personal as time goes by. I think of what shows value to me. What is an indication that someone is with me? What shows me that someone might value what I value? Undoubtedly it is their presence. A lack of presence communicates that they don’t care. At least in my universe, and after all, that is all that matters…..Whatever. I’m going out on a limb to bring you into the inner circle of pastoral thought. Presence matters. If you are in my community o’ faith, your presence matters. There….it’s out there.
I used to struggle with whether or not it was a measure of my security. Am I just taking this too personally? When I stand up on Sunday morning in front of my community o’ faith and open the book of books, what does it really matter who is there week to week? There is no cosmic attendance being taken. Maybe I just need to get over myself? In the last few weeks, for whatever reason, it’s been magnified. It finally hit me the other day. The reason that it matters so much to me is that presence really does matter. There doesn’t have to be words, presence says it all. Whether it is me showing up at a hospital or whether it is someone in my community o’ faith showing up on Sunday wondering what God has to say about all of this and what we ought to do about it, presence matters. If the same things are valued by a group of people, really good things can result. Not much good comes from apathy, apart from a nice long nap.
It doesn’t solve anything, really. I just realized that there is some justification for my feeling. It does though, reinforce my understanding that I need to renew my effort to just be there for people who need or want presence. Whether it’s in my own professional realm or personal relationship, or yours for that matter; perhaps the best lesson that tuition can buy is to just “be there and shut up”.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Yesterday, being my birthday and a national holiday on top of it, I decided to take the day off from writing…. and most other things for that matter. This morning I am in the comfort of my own chair in what’s become known as my “man cave”. After the calm of the past few days, life is cresting like a wave today. Grad school begins right now as I’m sharing this. There are a dozen last minute details to help my honey with as she prepares the preschool for tomorrow’s start of a new year. Of course there is also the issue of my own role as pastoral artist around here and the fact that I get paid to be one in this community o’ faith. All in all it looks like another 16 hour day lined up, so at 5:30 in the morning, it’s just my coffee, my chair, and my self trying to take a few moments to align my brain with my world.
I’m finding myself this morning in an odd, probably birthday induced, unfamiliar tension between past and future, while trying to focus on the needs of the present. My own personal feelings towards the observation of my birthday can be categorized in various stages throughout my history. There were the early years, when it’s been reported that I cried each time my family gathered and sang to me. I’d imagine that it was more a reflection of their harmony than my own feelings of mortality at that point. As I grew older and my ears grew accustomed to their well intentioned tunes, I , like most children looked forward to these annual celebrations. Somewhere later in high school and continuing into early adulthood, I became ambivalent to the whole process and mostly endured them for the sake of others felt need to celebrate. When I had my own children, I was a bit more enthusiastic because of their obvious desire to celebrate. As they grew older, I have once again become less engaged in the process, except for the occasional milestones like 40 and last years 45.
Except for the occasional selfish feelings of entitlement that I should be able to do whatever I want to on my annual appointed celebration, I haven’t really been affected that deeply during these moments. Oh, certainly, especially on the big ones, I have reflected on where I’m at, where I’ve been, where I might be going….all of the usual thoughts that one has. This year has been different though as, due to the great social networking invention called Facebook, my worlds and eras have collided into one big birthday card. I have shared before that my tendency, as I’ve jetted through the years, has been to close the pages behind me as I’ve passed through each chapter of existence. Each part is neatly packaged behind a section for me to come back to, or not, at my own leisure and convenience. This year, as I’ve received the, more than generous and less than deserved, birthday greetings through the wonder of the internet, all of those pages were opened at the same time, for the first time. I have connection with people from every point of my life including elementary school, all on the same day. It was somewhat overwhelming for someone who has been known for my less than enthusiastic approach to reunions of any sort.
I have, during the last several years, looked at the passing of my birthday’s as being one more year towards being able to do and say whatever the heck I want to. I still look for that magical day when I get to just because “I’m old”. For the time being though, I’m going to enjoy thumbing through the story that God has written with the generous and colorful ink of people in my life.