Being Presence

I am writing this article at the end of a two week vacation on the lovely Hawaiian island, Maui. My wife and I have tried to plan a trip to Hawaii every year for over 25 years now, and have been vacationing at this same small resort on a regular basis for nearly ten of those years. Charron lived in Hawaii for a formative part of her childhood, so for her returning to the islands is a response to some deeper calling. My initial attraction to the Islands was my love, addiction actually, for windsurfing and Maui is considered the “capital of windsurfing” for most of us familiar to the sport. Thus, over the years, we compromised and Maui became our island of choice…a beautiful beach for Charron and plenty of windsurfing opportunities for me. As a result, our little funky resort, in the northwest corner of the island, has become almost like a second home for us. We usually come here about the same time of the year, we often get the same room, eat at the same restaurants, and happily, we often meet some of the same friends we have made over the years who also do what we do. In some ways, I am reminded of my days at church camps when deep friendships were created during the season but when we returned to our respective homes across the country, there was little follow-up interaction. Although today we do occasionally send emails to coordinate returning dates.

This small well run resort is not the Hilton or Ritz Carlton. They do not offer the amenities that most of the larger hotels do on the islands. There is no golf course, no restaurant, no bar, no gift shop, no room service, and no one in cute, Hawaiian outfits to bring you drinks by the poolside.

I believe it is the lack of these amenities and the simple natural setting and facilities that attract the same kind of people each year. And they tend to come back year after year. I share this information so that you might understand why we have such powerful and often intimate conversations with some of these friends who we see only once a year.

I suspect another thing that has bonded us is that we are all aware that we are growing older together. We often find ourselves chuckling over someone’s report that another body part is no longer working properly or there is one more thing that we are no longer capable of doing. For example, I found myself admitting for first time that this was my third trip to Maui when I had not considered windsurfing. I had to accept that it was just one more thing on a growing list that I was letting go. We can talk openly about nearly anything, whether it is health issues, which were major, family issues that were significant, and even dealing with our imminent mortality. But in spite of these concerns, we played, we joked, and we often laughed until we could barely catch a breath. We all seemed to agree that we were some of the most fortunate people alive on earth and we were glad we were together for the moment.

At one point after a long conversation with our friends, I swam out to one of the nearby reefs and did something I frequently do there. I just rolled over on my back, and floated in the warm tropical waters. I learned years ago that if you relax, breathe deeply and let your head be partially submerged, you can float this way indefinitely, at least in salt water. Sometimes I can do that until I am almost asleep and I imagine that I have returned to the womb surrounded by the amniotic fluid of “Mother Nature.”

This time I was not sleepy for I was too overwhelmed with love. As I floated in this massive body of water, looking into some of the most beautiful blue sky in the world, I wondered how I could be so fortunate. I have such good friends; I have experienced such deep love; I know I will never be alone; my body can still be active…the list was just too long to continue to ponder. I was feeling such overwhelming joy and love; I wanted to cry with happiness. I wanted to give thanks. I wanted to repay.

As I continued to float in my imaginary womb, I wondered, “How could I repay for such abundance?” I no longer believe in a God that wants or needs anything from me…not my thanks nor my worship. I do believe in an Infinite Mystery, a constant Presence in all living things that can be experienced just as I was experiencing at that moment. But I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs, “Thank You!” Instead, I just floated quietly, relaxed and still in bliss. Suddenly I realized what I could do. I knew there was an action I could take. It was suddenly so clear that it was as if the words had come from outside of me.

I would dedicate my life to being that Presence as I move through whatever time I have left on this precious planet. I would intentionally try to be that Presence in every action, every relationship…even in my thoughts. I heard myself saying, “I want to be that Presence in everything that I do.”

Later, when I was describing this experience to my beloved wife, it occurred to me that this should be the goal of every spiritual practice, of every religion. I thought a lot about that later in the week as I prepared myself for my trip to Italy next month for an international gathering of religious leaders from dozens of faith traditions (Awakened World 2012). The goal and theme of this conference is to move religious people from enmity to empathy with the hope of fostering evolutionary change in our world instead of religion being a hindrance to positive change.

As I have described this upcoming event to some of my friends I am frequently asked, “Do you think it can really make a difference or it is just going to result in another paper that has no real impact on the world situation?” It is a fair question and when we look at the number of violent conflicts that are going on in the world today in the name of religion, it does cause one to pause. My answer is, of course, what if we don’t keep trying? What then?

I do know that change is happening and it is either going to be good change or sad change. I would like to think that whatever happens, I will know that I tried to influence positive or evolutionary change. Will we be like the dinosaurs and soon cease to exist or will we adapt? Will we become more spiritual and acknowledge our interdependences and interconnectedness, or will we become more divisive, more selfish, more self-centered? It really is the question of our age and I do not know the answer.

What I do know is that I am committed to being that “Presence” I experienced where ever I go, wherever I am, and whatever the situation. I can live with that.

Review & Commentary

27 thoughts on “Being Presence

  1. Thank you for so completely describing my path of choice in this dimension. I simply want to allow the presence of light and love shine forth from me. I truly believe this is the sole purpose of our existence. I want to do this daily and openly with no desire for recompense, just an awareness and thankfulness that I have received so much and have so little to give.

    Thank you again.

  2. Fred, I am in much the same place here in my later years and appreciate your articulating your sense of gratitude and your wanting to give back by being that loving presence in which you live and move and have your being. YES! Well worth doing and being. Thanks for sharing. Doug

    P.S. Do read James O’Dea’s Cultivating Peace. It’s a description of giving back by being a peace ambassador. It could easily be read as “being a love ambassador.” DR

  3. Pastor Fred,
    Thank you so much for being that Presence to me. In the last several years I have been on a journey to find anything of value in my faith tradition to pass on to my young daughters. I have never met you but your words often inspire me and they give me hope that I will be able to help my children experience faith in a way that is deeply personal and profoundly meaningful. I too want to be that Presence every moment. Thanks again for your work.

  4. Fred,
    You never mentioned the name of the little piece of Heaven on Maui.
    I too fell in love with Maui and the place was the Mauian Hotel on Napili Bay.
    From your description, I would say it fits perfectly.
    Fred

  5. What is the name of the place that you stay? I would love to go there – I know it’s not about the place but about what we bring with us. I am so longing for the experience you described.
    anne

  6. There are 2 states of living US US US or ME ME ME and any faith worth its salt should be challenging us to move us from the latter to the former. Many are invited but few accept the invitation. However, it is still very important to continue inviting people to move from the latter to the former state (http://u2invited.org ).

  7. I stand with you in my belief and I am also full of joy at that. I have been a Catholic Sister (nun) for 62 years and have traveled the whole road.I continue this wonderful trip of the heart and mind. Thank you for all you do for countless persons. Thank you for all you have gone through for passing all of this to all of us.

  8. Fred,

    This was a blessing to me – to read this commentary and to feel the Presence!

    I had just returned last evening as a member of an administrative committee setting in on a session meeting of a very divided church. Would that I could have communicated this love!

  9. At 75, I expect I am a bit older than you, Fred. Your words describe beautifully how I feel about the world around me, though I have never tried to express it aloud. It’s just who I have become these days, almost without recognizing the change. There are tasks I do that are just that, tasks, like airport pickups of arriving friends, and there are some I do that are not “tasks” in the same sense – – they are gifts to me, in that I have been given a chance to do them, especially those that involve communicating this “Presence” to those around me. The idea that I can communicate that Presence to others through what I do, while watching myself recede into the background, is precious to me, and the longer I live in this place, the more tasks move into “tasks.” Thanks so much for taking the time to try to capture a bit of what you and I are talking about.

    • Dave I am well over half way through my 71st year and love every minute of it as I allow myself to “recede into the background.” What a fascinating perspective we get to have…thanks for sharing

  10. Fred:

    I am so proud of you. Your evolution toward acceptance of just being is an inspiration. The peace you have in your life and your understanding that you don’t have to do ANYTHING but just be, to be the embodiment of the energy and peace you want to create, is the essence of happiness in this life. I believe it is the essence of change. That is all you have to do is be present at the Italy conference by holding this light.

    I focus on this every day in my meditation and you and others that I have attracted to my life keep me focused. I love the wisdom that comes from “maturing”! I appreciate you and Charron as my friends, my mentors, my true family. I have sent this to several people in my life hoping to have them just read it and digest. I wish you peace, love and light in all things.

    XO
    Susan

  11. Dear Fred,
    Wonderful reflective article and your closing paragraphs indicate that your finger is on the pulse of our changing world. The incoming energies (some call them gamma rays) are producing major shifts in our consciousness and our taken-for-granted established institutions. Nothing will escape the shift. It is likely that even your beloved Maui getaway will also experience major change in the next decade. So the questions you pose regarding adapting or ceasing to exist, being interconnected or divisive are poignant. I believe the only sane and meaningful response we can create is to be the calm “Presence” in the midst of any situation. I also confess that it ain’t always easy.
    Blessings on you and traveling mercies as you head to Italy.
    Susan

  12. That article, Being Present, is lovely and inspiring. It is inclusive of everyone and all faiths or no faith; just joyful beingness. I felt so ‘total’ after reading it.

  13. I sense the transparency of your blog insofar as I too am a seventy something retired and now retreaded ‘has been’. Yet my excitement at what is still becoming knows no bounds, even when my bodily strength will not accede to these dreams and visions.
    How about calling for a gathering in Maui of all those whom you have awakened with your blog. I have only been to Maui once and would gladly cash in some of my savings to go again. Of course being in the company of all your respondents would create a heaven on Earth. But then I am already enjoying that virtually, but the real time sound of the surf would further heighten the experience!
    Bon Voyage to Italy –please share the highlights with us all.
    One Love,

    Desmond.

  14. Your article on being present is much like my own thoughts and actions. I am an 80 yr old former nurse and I truly believe my purpose in life is to help those who are dying. I sit with them and talk if they want to talk and do a lot of listening. When it is their time to” let go and let God” I tell them that they need not worry about anyone or any thing. It will all be taken care of–their loved ones will be fine and their needs met. You can almost see and definitely feel their (for want of a better word), soul leave their body and they are at peace . It is sometimes very draining for me but always rewarding to have the privilege to be with someone in their final hours. I am that “calm presence”

    • Margaret, it was often assumed that while being the pastor, dealing with someone’s death must have been hard or difficult or as one person “the worst part of your job.” Frankly I was honored when someone asked me to stay with them as they transitioned. Those were the times that I felt the most “Presence” in everything that I did. Thanks

  15. Fred,

    Thank you so much.

    Is it my email, or have you and others not announced the meeting in Italy in time for some of the
    rest of us to try to go? I can’t imagine spending money on any vacation, but to go to something like
    this and attempt to be a part of those seeking to make a difference is something I might even “go
    into hock” for! It is devastating to get announcements like these too late – over and over.

    As to your message, your last two paragraphs are the essence of why we are here. It matters only
    when it “hits” us, when we are absolutely and very very simply and fundamentally convinced that
    this is the truth and the meaning about living. Remember the days in theology when “experience” was frowned upon as a reference point? Emotion was so suspect as to be considered a hindrance.
    How have some of us survived? Yet the earth has deeply changed. There IS hope for days ahead,
    hope that no aspect of being human is omitted in the integration of our theology with our spirituality.

    Blessing, Grace

  16. Dear Fred,
    Thank you for sharing your “ah ah” moment. I too feel God in beauty, love, joy, compassion and then sharing it with others. Your words are so inspirational. If everyone were able to feel connected to the planet and all of life on it how wonderfully peaceful a place it would be. It starts with me. In my small world I’m committed to being the very best person I was meant to be and then allowing that to be an example to those I meet. I always look forward to your messages.

  17. Fred, I appreciate your continuing effort to put your deepest experiences of the Divine into words, mostly different words from ones you and I grew up with, though also connected to them. My own efforts to do the same helps me, I believe, to appreciate yours all the more. There are lots of us doing this, obviously, from those who connect with Prog. Christianity and leave comments. I’ve been doing a lot to renarrate the myths of Eden and Cain-Abel lately (leevanham.com). Very rewarding for me to do it and then be willing to “go public” with it through writing and posting to a blog, plus creating a book. Nature must be the single most powerful place to put ourselves for this creative, creation spirituality. I join you in being past half way in my 71st year, but I won’t be joining you in Italy. Shucks.

    • I agree and that is why we live in the Pacific Northwest woods, have two cats and one little filly who I spend time with every day when I am not traveling. I have never felt so connected and in touch with “Eden.”

  18. Not one to jump on to the fan club bus, I do feel compelled to express my confusion, or at least admit I am lost in the nuance.
    You say “I do believe in an Infinite Mystery, a constant Presence”, (ditto for old Bill here) but later you say “I would dedicate my life to being that Presence”. WOW! To take that literally, Fred replaced Infinite Mystery which I am not sure you meant. For me, I want to participate as much as I can WITH the Presence. You have been writing a lot longer and a lot deeper than I,(despite my 74 years) so help me out. Where am I lost?

    • Thanks Bill for writing. Others have raised the same question although they contacted me by email. The point that I believe you may have missed is not that I replaced that Presence but that I recognize that I am already part of that Presence. I periodically have to remind myself of that so I can manifest that Presence in all that I am and all that I do. Very special moments, much like my Maui experience help me recognize that reality that I now accept as real for me. Theologically speaking it means that I am trying to get rid myself of the dualistic mentality and accept the absolute Oneness of all creation. God is no longer “up there” or “over there” for me. It is in me and in you and all creation. I did not replace anything. I just recognized I was already part of something.
      I hope this is helpful. Thanks for writing.
      F…

  19. Fred, thanks for the clarification. Once again we are reminded of the importance of context. Yours unspoken, mine assumed (sp!). Another assumption is that this venue is open for discussion beyond affirmation. If not, give me your email address so we can discuss our differences.
    Bill

    • The only constraints on this format are my time and travel commitments that do not allow me to spend more time on front of the computer regardless of medium. My email address in on our website. (progressivechristianity.org) I will do what I can whenever I can.
      Fred

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