October 10, 2022
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:9-17
Paul is a theologian and so sometimes he gets tangled up in an idea and even if the idea is a good one, he picks at it from every angle until you’re cross eyed or asleep. If I were to try to simplify it somewhat, I’d say: Jesus is gone – is no longer physically among us, but don’t despair! It’s possible to live this life of ours with a conscious awareness of a presence that is like the presence – NO, it IS the very same presence we felt when he walked on this earth among us! You can experience an awareness of the Spirit of God even as you go to school, pore over the computer, take the kids to soccer or do the laundry. This is such a baffling idea because it seems to go against our whole scientific mindset in this 21st Century. What I can’t see, touch, measure, and examine doesn’t exist. That’s so short-sighted.
But Paul is asking us to BELIEVE that this is true and to live like it. And he says that this presence is a whole lot like living in LOVE and PEACE and HOPE. But to practice that presence isn’t so easy because our lives are so busy and our minds are so preoccupied with a schedule that is way too full and our eyes and ears are continually bombarded with a thousand other things that really don’t matter much, but are noisy and flashy and constant.
Who has time or self discipline to LIVE IN THE SPIRIT? We haven’t been called to be monks living away from it all so our minds and hearts can turn regularly to what is really real?
When Allison DeHart was offering her contemplative practice of prayer once a month and when Colleen Rose was offering her monthly Tibetan bowls at The Gathering Place, the purpose was, to once a month, offer us a time to be still, to push away the press of life, and to practice awareness of life with the real presence of Jesus among us! It was so hard to make time to do even that little bit!
The saints from the very earliest times have all consistently encouraged us to practice this (or some kind) of awareness so that as we practice, little by little, we are able to be more keenly aware of the presence of Jesus still in our midst! How, in this busy society, do we do that? How can we improve our awareness and actually experience Living in the Spirit more? It’s not easy and the first step is to recognize the hold that the culture has on our attention and our minds. How can we break that persistent bombardment of noise to hear another voice?
We can’t even fill our gas tanks with fuel without being shouted at by the fuel pump! And there is no option to turn it down or off! We can try to pay no attention but that isn’t easy! And, there are the demands of our cell phones which have managed to weasel their way into almost every waking moment!
I can’t tell you how to “practice the presence” in your life. You must decide that after you are convinced that you should. You alone can decide where to start and what is causing you the most problem. Where was it that I heard not long ago someone say that one week a month, they put away their cell phones as a spiritual discipline for this very reason. You say: “I can’t do that!” Yes, you can! There was a time not long ago when we did without a cell phone all the time, not just one week a month!
You see, to begin to practice the presence of the Spirit is to break the cycle of addiction to noise and the constant demand for our attention!
● A VACATION CAN DO IT. That is, unless you give in to a harried schedule of seeing one “sight” after another and craving that one more thing to add to the list of places you’ve been and things you’ve seen.
● ART AND MUSIC CAN DO IT. They can take you away from the noise and allow you to be present to something in another realm.
● NATURE CAN DO IT. The littlest natural thing can fill you with wonder and joy and in that is God’s presence. A walk in the park, sitting a while in your backyard where the hummingbird and the rose blooms.
● LOVE CAN DO IT. Do you know how powerful it is when you catch the eye of a tiny baby in her mother’s arms and she looks at you and breaks into a big smile. You can welcome that moment and let it fill you with deep joy and gratitude for God’s amazing plan for the world. It can help you remember that the Holy Spirit is in our very midst!
● THE FLEETING MOMENTS that pass so quickly because we haven’t time to linger. When a stranger needs a hand. When a homeless person has not experienced anyone making eye contact in who knows how long.
● WHEN YOU FEEL LOST AND VULNERABLE. Even then! You are more alert then to what is going on around you – more open to an inbreaking of some kind.
Mary Ann and I experienced that over and over in Europe. Almost always there was an encounter just waiting to happen. A dawning like a gift of love which comes from God. A person willing to help and to listen. Every morning for four mornings we ate breakfast in a 250-year-old addition to our hotel alongside the Inn River. Every morning, the same people, also guests in the hotel, ate breakfast at about the same time we did. Every morning we exchanged greetings and it seemed a cautious wall went up between us.
Mary Ann and I talked about it before breakfast one morning, and I said: These German people seem guarded and somewhat aloof. They seem unemotional and distant! We walked into the breakfast room and had the greeting and the same response. But as breakfast was coming to an end, the woman got up from her seat, walked over to our table and said in the warmest way: “Where are you two from? What brought you to Innsbruck?”
The Spirit of God was in that moment because love prevailed and it came from an unlikely place. Something changed in that brief moment – something that could transform the world if we could listen and pay attention. I invite you to make time for the Spirit in your busy life – to be open to inbreakings, to God, to the possibility of living in the Spirit! Amen!