There’s an ancient story of a man wandering in the desert, and though he had done this for many years, on this specific occasion he noticed something strange, something out of the ordinary, something that caught his attention like it had never done before. He saw a bush in the distance that was on fire, and yet it wasn’t being destroyed by that fire. He drew closer to look.
From that ancient story it looked as though an angel was responsible for that burning bush, but when the man went to investigate it seems, from the one who then spoke, that the angel deferred to a higher power, the Presence. One wonders for how long that angel had been trying to catch his attention – days, weeks, years? Nevertheless, the man went to investigate.
This old, old story goes on to tell us that the burning bush spoke to the man by name, and told him to remove his shoes because the ground he was standing on was, indeed, holy ground. He did so. He drew aside, and in silence and in the desert, and experienced the Presence.
There is another story, more recent about a woman called Catherine Doherty. Arriving in Canada as a Russian refugee and living in the poorest parts of Toronto, she spent almost all of her life seeking to encounter the Presence, the Source of All, God, in the desert. She wrote in her book, ‘Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence…’, that deserts (and the Russian name for desert is Poustinia, hence the title of her book), those times of silence and solitude are ‘not necessarily places but states of mind and heart’.
These deserts can be found in busy cities, in sparsely populated area, as well as in places where we live each day of our lives. These deserts of encounter, where the Presence can be experience, can be ‘tiny pools of silence’. They can be anywhere.
But how do we achieve this silence?
How do we experience the Presence? She says, ‘By standing still!’. Catherine Doherty
However we define the Presence, that Mystery, That Which Is Bigger Than Us, that which some call God (and that’s a word that is much overused hence my search and usage of other words), the Elements or Elementals, the Spirit, that Presence is much needed. Not to experience the Presence is not to experience Life in all its fullness.
If perception is looking at something and understanding it from some way off, then encountering the Presence is all about experience, communion, one-ness with and the acceptance of a relationship with the Presence, initiated by the Presence, and which is always beneficial.
And, yet we can ‘distance’ ourselves from the Presence, from that Great Flow, The Spirit, call ‘it’ what you will.
We can ‘distance’ or remove ourselves from the experience of the Presence by being too busy – we all live such busy lives, after all, and some seemingly quantify their worth by a ‘crowded’ diary; by being too precise – we can so want our words of liturgy and ritual to be word-perfect that we focus on the words rather than the encounter; by being analytical – to use our minds to objectively observe what is going on with the Presence at the time of the encounter immediately puts us at some distance and we step outside of the basking of sacred-time, and step back into ordinary time; by ‘crowding out’ the Presence by an excess of words, especially if we have limited time and a shopping-list of prayers to recite; by ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’.
Ofcourse, in one very real sense removing or distancing ourselves from the Presence is impossible – because the Presence is ubiquitous and is always close at hand – but we can remove ourselves from the knowledge and experience of the Presence by focussing on what really isn’t important at all.
Why do we do that?
We might fear the Presence and so don’t want to draw close, or we might not fully understand the loving and invitational presence of the Presence, we might be too busy (and if so, please find time to slow and stop occasionally), we might not realise the importance of ritual and prayer (that puts us in a position of being receptive), or (and this is true of some ‘old hands’, mature and ‘holy people’) some may not really want to draw close to the Presence because their lives may be changed (and even if for the better, it can be worrying for some to have Someone Else in the ‘driving seat’). And so, some may prefer an ‘arms length’ approach, to be in control of the ‘on-off’ button, and in such cases may actually be angry and upset with those that point to a closer communion.
Yes, it’s good to encourage greater communion in others, but if you do, be aware that there will some well-meaning people (even using Bible verses) to counter your good works and declare you to be a heretic. But, I can sense that you’re a principled, determined and passionate-for-the-truth sort of person, and that that wouldn’t stop you.
‘All I did was light candles.
Did God find me or did I find God?
The time for words is past’.
(Barbara Brown Taylor)
So, how do we encounter the Presence?
Well, liturgy, prayer and ritual are some ways to put us in a position of being receptive to the always-there Presence, but they are ‘doorways’ to step through and enter that ‘inner sanctum’ of sacred-space. They are ‘tools’ to usher us into an awareness of the ‘Divine Ubiquitousness’.
There are many other ways to encounter the Presence (eg music, art, works of service, a numinous event, a tragic event, a loving event, a huge surprise etc) But the encounter of Presence always leads to silence, perhaps perceived in (inner) darkness (‘luminous darkness’), and without analytical thought. It is experience that takes place in time-out-of-time, without words, is a state or mind and being, and it is only after the experience, as we look back analytically, that we ‘remember’ being in the presence of the Presence. This is one of the purposes and uses of the Caim.
‘Your hand opens and closes,
opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralysed.
Your deepest presence
is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birds’ wings.’