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The difficult art of being present

Jeffrey Bruno for Aleteia

Tod Worner - published on 12/12/16

How often do we miss the genuine encounter -- with God and with others -- because we don't know how to be still?

One year ago, when Pope Francis paid a weeklong visit to the United States, a telling photograph made the rounds on social media. The picture, for once, was not of the joyful pontiff traveling the streets in his “pope-mobile.” Instead, it focused on the throngs of eager onlookers pressed up against the barricade gates. At the moment two dozen people were captured furiously positioning their iPhones, finding the right screen, turning on the video, zooming in, zooming out just to immortalize the moment the pope passed by. But before they knew it, the moment was gone. Did they savor it? Did they drink deep of the experience?

Probably not.

But it seems that one woman did. There in the midst of this frantic picture-taking rush was a diminutive, gray-haired woman smiling. Barely tall enough to peer over the fence, she had no phone and no camera. She was just a woman, the picture of serenity, drinking deep this extraordinary moment.

How often is our prayer life – our sacred and intimate encounter with God – like those two dozen people? How often are we fumbling, distracted and disengaged? How frequently do we miss the fruitfulness of the encounter because we are too busy, too anxious, or too confident that our way is the better way?

Pope Benedict XVI once observed,

We are no longer able to hear God…there are too many frequencies filling our ears.”

We need to be quiet. We need to step away from the crush of noise and information and opinion and emotion and schedules and expectation and simply be in the presence of God. When the Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), the first duty is to be still.

To know God and to know ourselves, we must cultivate silence in our lives. It is the only way for us to reflect and grow. It is the only way to open ourselves to God’s Divine Will. Soren Kierkegaard recognized that we must

allow the quiet and the retirement in which the Eternal may unfold a divine growth… It is true that a mirror has the quality of enabling a man to see his image in it, but for this he must stand still. If he rushes hastily by, he sees nothing.”

During this season of renewal, this season Advent, be quiet. Turn off the TV, put away the iPhone, silence the radio, find a place alone… and just be in the presence of God. At first, it will be daunting, overwhelming, even deafening in its silence. But before long, you will feel the stillness. And it will give you comfort. You will sense the opening of a broad and sacred fertile ground where you and God can just talk. Talk about your day. Talk about your family. Voice your fears. Confess your shortcomings. Shake your fist. Give him your thanks. Tell him you’ll try harder. Just talk.

And He will answer, but you must pay attention… close attention. In minutes or years, in ways simple and ways unimaginable, He will answer.

So be like that little elderly lady in the picture gently smiling, quietly watching, but profoundly taking it all in.

Be still.


Be still and know that I am God.

[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Are you present?]

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