A Gift of Presence
for the Digital Age
Reflection presented at
All Soul's Day Prayer Service Concert
St. Joseph's Church, Kingston, NY
We have so much in common today. We have all come to remember and celebrate those who have gone before us. Although we come in different stages of grief, with different flavors of remembering, our interior questions are probably quite similar. “How can I handle this? Where do I go from here?” The fortunate among us may have had a wise soul or a spiritual guide offering a willing ear. These treasures, like my spiritual director, share our sorrow and tears. They remind us that Jesus who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus is a companion in our sadness and grief. But then my spiritual director, as all good directors should do, asked the big questions. “And what is God saying to you in all of this? What opportunity is God asking you to find in your grief?”
Bereavement is an experience of the loss of a presence in our lives; a presence that may have been influential, someone involved in our lives, available and responsive. However, it is also possible that we are grieving not only the loss of a person but also regretting the opportunities we missed to enhance our relationship with that person while still alive.
Since we experience so keenly now the absence of a presence in our lives; since we may regret lost opportunities to be present, to be in meaningful relationship with the one who is gone; could it be that our loving God is inviting us to a new awareness of the quality of our own presence in the lives of others? Can this invitation be translated into a quality of presence that makes us better listeners, more generous with our time, more compassionate in response, and much less the masterful know it all problem-solver?
Jesus was generous with his presence, so generous that he had time to see, really see people, even to seeing into their hearts. While in the midst of crowds he was attentive and he noticed. He noticed the tax collector Matthew bent over his coins. He noticed Zachaeus who had scrambled up a tree to get a better view. In both he saw a generosity of heart invisible to others. He felt the hand of the sick woman touch his cloak in the press of the crowd; stopped his forward momentum and took the time to praise her faith and provide the cure she sought. And when an unnamed woman approached him during a feast at Bethany he accepted her gestures of devotion even when others objected. He allowed her to anoint his body with fragrant perfume and with his words memorialized forever the depth of her love.
Speaking of feasts – the Gospels indicate that Jesus liked dinning with his friends. He liked to linger at table, hearing their questions and responding to them with homey yet instructive stories. His presence was gift.
As Christians we are asked to imitate Jesus in all things. In our sense of loss is a seed, the seed for growth in Jesus’ quality of attentiveness to others. It is an invitation to grow into a more radical form of personal availability, of listening, of presence than has been our ordinary habit. This is a contemplative attitude toward relationship. It is a Jesus attitude. It also happens to be a very timely antidote to an explosion of communication without depth or feeling experienced this digital age. We find ourselves participating in a frenzy of communication. I am as guilty as anyone – busily at work as webmaster, Facebook page organizer, blog poster, e-mail user and most recently trying to master the I-Phone. I would not give them up. These digital tools can be used to spread the Gospel Word, to work more efficiently, to just keep in touch. But texts, e-mail, tweets, blogs and Instagrams cannot provide an arm around the shoulder, a listening ear, a gift of quality time in family or with friends. Digital communication does not allow for reading the expression on a face, the tremor in the voice, or the body language that speaks in silence. This is the very quality of the one on one human presence, face to face, in the now that we miss in grief for our loved one and what we may wishing we had offered in the past.
Consider the invitation that God may have wrapped up in your loss. Consider the invitation to a more loving quality of attention, awareness, and availability in all of your daily interactions. These may come at the kitchen table, in the line at the supermarket, at the next soccer game, or when all you hear is the sound of the TV and everyone’s head is bent over one device or another. It is a very timely appeal in our current technological age. This is the stuff of which our spiritual lives are made. Our response may be the finest tribute we offer in memory of our loved one, the quality of whose presence made such a difference in our life.