Conversations » Present to the Presence
We have been blessed this week to have Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND, as the presenter for our annual parish mission. Sister Kathleen is a teacher of theology at Iona College, a stellar Merton scholar, a psalmist and accomplished composer, and the newly elected president of the International Thomas Merton Society.
Sister Kathleen has focused the mission on our relationship with the Creator. Creation is the first revelation of the Godhead. She has taught us through lecture and song how to be present to the Presence which is God manifest in creation through the Cosmic Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are to be present to the Presence as Creation groans and struggles toward the Omega Point—completion in the Cosmic Christ. The Cosmic Christ is fully incarnate—present—in every element of creation. We are all coming forth from the stardust which flares forth from the Creator at every moment. The Cosmic Christ is also up ahead calling us to be what we are—people created in the very image and likeness of God. The Cosmic Christ is present in the depths of our souls propelling us toward that which we are meant to be. The Cosmic Christ is ahead of us and, in Merton’s words, calling us to become our true selves. Merton was fond of saying that Christ became human so that we might become divine. Here the new cosmology meets the new theology.
From the very beginning of the Bible we see stories, shaped in the folklore of their time, which speak of being present to the Presence. Today’s reading from Exodus is a perfect example. Moses is performing the routine probably somewhat humdrum duty of tending the sheep; however, Moses is a person who is open to the presence of the Presence. A mindless, non-grounded shepherd would have walked by the burning bush. Moses did not. Here again light, the pervasive cosmic force, is used as a symbol for divinity. Moses sees the Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—his forebears—present in a burning bush on a mountain. In Moses day, God the Creator was always present on mountains—the epitome of creation’s magnificence.
Moses was practicing what Elise Garcia calls “Creatio Divina.” (Center for Action and Contemplation, Radical Grace, Spring 2011) What a wonderful takeoff on Lectio Divina. We read, ponder and chew over the revelation of God in the Sacred scriptures. Should we not also place ourselves in God’s presence as manifest in the first book of revelation—the cosmos? Moses is practicing Creatio Divina when he pauses form his daily duties to be present to the Presence—God manifest in a burning bush. I plan to start practicing Creatio Divina on a regular basis.
Karl Rahner and Merton were kindred 20th century spirits. Merton would agree wholeheartedly with Rahner’s assertion that the Christian of the 21st century would be a mystic or not be at all. Mystics take time to place themselves in the present where God can manifest. Mystics simply show up. They show up open to the gift of the present moment as God comes to them disguised as their lives.
Dennis Hamm, SJ (Creighton University Daily Reflections) comments on the Gospel passage for today:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
In order to be present to the Presence, we, in Hamm’s words, must become “small.” We must become like children letting go of all preconceived notions and expectations. Who would expect to encounter the Living God in a burning bush or in a piece of communion bread?
We should read the rest of the story. God is never just about personal piety. God goes on to tell Moses that God is concerned about the oppression of god’s people. Mystical encounter always results in communal or corporate involvement.
It is quite simple. We take time to abandon our hectic busy technology-driven schedules just to BE. We slow down. We let go. We allow ourselves to stumble into the dark abyss where we truly encounter the Living God—the Creator—deep within our very being. We understand that our relationship with God involves us in a web of relationships.
We stop. We look. We listen. We may encounter a deer and spend time just being with the deer as we look at the deer and the deer looks at us. We become one with the deer, the Creator and all of Creation. (I believe it was Thomas Keating who described contemplation in this manner—I look at God and God looks at me.) Or, we may simply observe something. Did you know that a tomato plant leaf has texture and delicate patterned structures?
Be present to the Presence. Sister Kathleen made us very aware of the fact that the broken wounded and fractured Merton found healing in the solitude of the monastery. Our practice of being present brings us health and wholeness. It brings us healing. It brings us communion with the Creator, one another, and all God’s creatures.
Richard Rohr in the aforementioned issue of “Radical Grace” reminds us of Paul’s words in his Letter to the Romans:
Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and divinity—however invisible—have been there for the mind to see in the things that God has made.” (1:20)
Rohr begins the reflection by quoting Job:
If you would learn more, ask the cattle,
Seek information from the birds of the air.
The creeping things of the sea will give you lessons,
And the fishes of the sea will tell you all. There is not a single creature that does not know
That everything is of God’s making.
God holds in power the soul of every living thing,
And the breath of every human body. (12:7-10, emphasis added)
Praise be to the Creator and to all creatures!