Being present requires you be absent from somewhere else



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Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

A Rabbi once asked his students if they knew the very moment
that Dark becomes light.
‘It is when you can distinguish a dog from a sheep’, one student said.
The teacher paused, then broke the silence with a smile and said ‘no’.
After a few minutes another student raised his hand and asked
‘Is it when you can distinguish an olive from a fig?’
‘You can tell the moment Darkness becomes Light when you mistake a stranger for a brother’ said the Rabbi.

In an interesting twist, the students were focussing on how light helps distinguish and separate with added clarity, but the teacher was emphasizing the complete opposite. Light as a metaphor for goodness looks past differences, and allows grace to blur the lines.

Is it possible that for some of us we are missing the very things we are searching for because we think that it needs to look different?

It seems that some people could already be happy and just not know it. Barbara Brown Taylor wrote that the reason we cannot find the proverbial X that marks the treasure in our life is because we are standing on it.

Some of the greatest spiritual moments of our life are disguised as ordinary and left unappreciated. Sometimes the joy is so subtle that unless we are grounded in the moment we don’t even notice it.

Spirituality is all about the discovery that God’s presence is right here with and among us now. Yet I have had some difficult moments were it sure didn’t feel like God was with me. My own suffering has helped me uncover some clues as to why I felt this way.

Simply put.
I run from pain and suffering. I don’t like to hold anything that is even slightly sad, or difficult. So I distract myself with thots of a better future. Being an optimist, I keep telling myself that everything is going to be all right. But what I believe to be ‘all right’ is a narrow interpretation in my head, and it also includes being somewhere else. I try to escape. But what if in those difficult moments I could learn to sit and hold the pain. To be fully present in it.

There is an eastern idea called non resistance. It is about being present and choosing to not resist my current reality. This isn’t about fatalism, it is about stopping to recognize were you are and being fully there. Then, once you have an understanding of your current situation and you have held it, you can then make appropriate choices for change.

Faith teaches that God is with us in the present moment, then maybe the reason we can’t find him is because we are the ones who aren’t.

I can be so many other places in my head, in my heart and in my soul.

But what if in order to be present were God is, we have to be there to—in the same spot at the same time.

In order to be present here, we have to be absent from somewhere else.


Luke 19 records an interesting story of a man that wanted to catch a glimpse of this Jesus he had heard so much about. In order for this busy man to actually catch a glimpse though, he had to stop what he was doing. He even had to humiliate himself a bit and climb a tree to be in a good spot to see.

Luke records that as Jesus was passing by He looked up into that very tree and into the eyes of the man searching for Him.

I wonder if in those moments when we are trying to find God in our lives—is it our pride that stops us? Is it that we refuse to set aside our busyness to climb our proverbial trees to sit and wait?

What if we discovered that when we take the time to stop and be present, and when we take the time to be humble-that the very thing we are looking for is looking at us?

Too many of us aren’t were we are, and it makes me wonder how many times God walks past us in a day and we never notice.



You may enjoy PART 1, and PART 2 of this series here.



When helplessness is all you have to offer.



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I was Standing in line in the hospital cafeteria.
Behind me was an old man unsteady on his feet rifling through his change purse while a slice of pizza teetered on his walker. He asked the cashier how much the slice was, and realized he didn’t have enough. I told him I wanted to buy it for him and he looked at me with his ancient eyes and beautifully wrinkled face and he asked
“are you rich?”
I looked down at his frail little frame wondering what burden brought him here.
I couldn’t help him with his pain, but I could help him with his lunch.
So I smiled and said
“Today I am”.

I had learned a secret.

There is an unspoken wisdom that lies not only on the far side of our pain,
but can also be experienced on the far side of someone else’s pain.
Something mystical can happen in the presence of burden and sorrow.

When your desire to stay overrules your desire to leave.
There is a breakthrough.

At this point something is shared.
a strange transaction begins to take place.

Offering our helplessness to help,
and getting past the thought that only the professionals can do anything.
I am a professional.
I am a professional human.
I should be I have been doing human for 45 years.

There is no way around pain, only through it.
My culture has lied to me,
because the short cuts it offers don’t take me to the same destination—a life unafraid.

Life should be more than the avoidance of pain.
True living happens not without suffering but in spite of it.

Sometimes being with others in their anguish is a medicine,
that often heals those unaware of any affliction.

Most often the best way to deal with any burden is to deal with it together.
Unfortunately this can be more expensive.
It will cost our time, and our energy–compassion and empathy are exhausting.
If only we knew that caring for someone who suffers from depression
or chronic illness isn’t an expense but is instead an investment.
If only we knew that the investment isn’t only in their life but in ours as well—hospitals would be overrun with volunteers.
When my wife was hospitalized in extreme pain I was there trying so hard to find ways to comfort her. At one point she looked up and asked
“Where is God at times like this?”
Tearing up I reached for a cloth, dipped it in ice water and gently placed it on her forehead,
“he is right here, placing this cloth on your forehead” I sobbed.
She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said,
“you’re right, here he is”.
If she only knew that that afternoon, she was the saviour of my hardened heart.


You may also enjoy: Dirty Fingers and a Clean Heart or misplacing God




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Easter Morning. Suspend disbelief for a minute.

A couple of women and a couple of men, and a couple of stories.
It seems that there’s only be one thing they agree on.
God does not stay where we put him.
If this is problematic it is problematic only for us.
We like to know where things are at any given time.
It helps in our planning. It helps with our fears. It helps in our coping.

Mary and the women head to the tomb believing they know what they will find.
They are looking for a Jesus that looks like the last one they saw.
Bloodied and Beaten, wrapped and in need of a proper burial.

I can relate.
I’ve showed up at the tomb of my beliefs looking to bury a faith that had experienced a horrific beating at the hands of doubt and fear , convinced that all was dead.
I went back just to say goodbye.
But there was nothing there. Nothing to bury.

When Mary and the women arrive they don’t see what they are expecting to find.
Instead they find nothing. No body to prepare.
They run and tell the disciples of what they saw which was…nothing.
They in turn come only to see the same thing—nothing.
Often when God is up to something it looks like nothing.

Sometimes we can’t find God because we are looking for a bloody corpse.
We are looking to find an encounter that looks like the last one we had.
But God never seems to appear the way we saw him last.
Is it because God changes or because we do?
After all they have witnessed and experienced over the last few days they must be different people.  The ancient philosopher Herecletus once said:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Mary, John and Peter looking into the same dark tomb that only a day ago held their saviour. And they all seemed to experience it differently.

John arrives first but only peers into the empty tomb.
Peter shows up second, but the first to enter and in disbelief takes inventory of all he sees. John 20:8 says that when John finally went in and saw for himself the absence of a body—he believed.
John believed in what? I want to know….but yet I do know.
I know that feeling, and so do you.
When you’re facing what you believe to be something terrible,
and a FLITTER of optimism begins to manifest.
You don’t know everything—and for the firs time that is a good thing.
John believed…in something….in enough of something.
They run to tell the others that they have seen nothing, and isn’t it amazing!
This is faith—Seeing nothing and believing it to be amazing.

Then Mary, alone weeping outside. Nothing for her doesn’t have the same effect. She is not weak, or unspiritual. She is Mary.
It’s her turn to look in the tomb.
But Mary doesn’t see nothing. Mary sees something.
Two men, angelic — seated where Jesus should have been.
“Why are you crying?” they ask rhetorically—they must know.
“They have taken my Lord away”
“I don’t know where they have put him”
She glances back to discover the scene has changed again.
Or has she changed, or have both?
A man is there, a gardener?
“Who are you looking for” he asks.
“Please if you have taken him, tell me were and I will get him” she says.


She knew. He wasn’t a Gardener, He was Jesus.

Why was it only Mary who saw Jesus and not Peter and John?  Is it because she waited long enough?  Her sorrow held her their?  I am convinced that sometimes the Journey to resurrection requires us to hold our loss.  But then…

Sometimes we can’t find God because we are looking for a bloody corpse. But sometimes we can’t find God because we have mistaken him for a gardener.
That makes so much sense to me now. I think I know why I haven’t been able to find God were I left him. When I have returned to mourn the death of my hope, or my faith. And I find nothing. It’s not because God isn’t there. It is because I don’t recognize him. How many gardener’s have I walked past thinking they didn’t matter. They were just obstructions to more important ‘spiritual’ matters.
Yet all along they were the presence of the divine.
Everything I was searching for.

Jesus next words have deep meaning if only for me.
“Don’t hold on to me, as I have yet to go to the Father.”
Transformation happens in the presence of God, but not when we are holding on to it. In fact it’s God’s presence that holds us.
And it was enough for Mary.
And this morning, it is enough for me.


You may also enjoy Buried or planted, you decide

or When helplessness is all you have to offer.

or Yes it’s a lot of rain, but it’s how I learned to swim