In Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, John Donohue’s description of intimacy speaks of what I have come to know as being present with another. When he speaks of “intimacy as sacred,” he uses the example of a mystic who spends years sitting in silence before the Presence, before ever being ready to make an approach. This suggests the need to develop a capacity for patience, not only for tolerating long stretches of silence, but also for developing a sense of peace within them.
Donohue writes about how the idea of intimacy has been used and abused in our culture and how various forms of media, including the Internet, result in overexposure that masquerades as intimacy. He wrote this before the explosion of social media sites and the phenomenon of blogging in which writers are able to share from the heart.
I am conflicted about (and often overwhelmed by) all of these vehicles of communication. Yet here I am praying and striving to be honest and real in the “blogosphere.” Every so often I feel something like bile rise up in my throat – I want to interpret it as writer’s block when in fact it may well be my soul’s deep desire for self-preservation, to step back into that space of silence, of being reserved and anonymous.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate being connected with friends near and far, keeping up with significant life-changing events, even as we enjoy the mundane, as we challenge each other in Words with Friends and “like” each other’s FaceBook status. There is no way I could stay connected with so many with whom I have walked during various seasons of life. This is a good thing. But so might be the occasional fast from such activity. Easy access to social media and Internet technologies does not circumvent the need to connect with each other face to face. It does not satisfy the yearning that can only be touched by sitting in the presence of the other.
“‘The hand of the stranger is the hand of God.’”
Something happens when we are truly present with the other. When we pause and take a deep breath. When we really look at the one we are with, look beyond the surface. If we listen closely – as if we are listening not for words but for a breath, for the rhythm of a heartbeat and the sound of cells dividing – in this space we begin to encounter our neighbors, not as we imagine them to be, but as they are, holy and complete. We may find that we see not only children of God but the embodiment of God.
This is easier said than done. I encountered it in a very profound way in the somewhat controlled environment of an 8-day silent retreat with about 16 other folks from very different places and points on the spiritual journey. We sat together in meditation for a few hours each day. We observed silence for the entire time, not speaking with one another until the last day. The sense of intimacy and community that was born in that time was palpable. That practice of patiently waiting in silence, day after day, created something within us and among us that we could not have achieved if we had spent those days sharing with each other from the heart. In the silence we found an intimacy that was deeper and more profound than what we would have encountered in our most vulnerable, spoken stories.
The same can happen when we are willing to reach out to our neighbor who is different. What we do for one another can be significant but it is never as deeply life changing as the slow, consistent process of being present.
As I step away from ministries at St. Francis and our beloved Glenmoor community, I am grateful for the ability to remain connected through technology and social media. I am grateful to all who choose to follow this blog and to share it with others; in a sense a community is springing up among us in this space, and I hope it is a blessing.
As I move forward, privileged to launch a new ministry in Jacksonville – a church without walls – I look forward to meeting others who long to explore a yearning to go into the world, sharing the grace and love of Christ with neighbors, especially those edge dwellers – folks who often feel like the “out” crowd rather than the ”in,” no matter where they may appear to fall on the “social scale.” I imagine a church without walls that welcomes all – those who feel invisible or shunned by society or organized religion and those who are looking for a way to live out their faith that has meaning and embodies the Spirit that is Love.
Donohue tells us that “the stranger does not come accidentally,” but comes bearing surprising gifts. As we reach out to the strangers among us, may we each find all manner of gifts. May we each find the hand of God.