Absence and Presence

Karisse and I got home from almost a month away. We strung together a bunch of trips and go them all over with at once, then fell exhausted and delighted into our own water-bed on Saturday night. On Sunday it was the expected, “Welcome back!” “We missed you!” I’m happy for the sentiment, though things seemed to have sailed along on an even keel in our absence. Maybe they don’t really need me…

What is absence and what is presence? During the trip we spent three days in Weslaco, TX, where I served the local Episcopal Church for most of the 90’s. In the absence of the Rector I was asked to fill in. My presence there was poignant precisely because it was I was officially “absent”. If I had never served there my “absence” would not be felt, and my “presence” would not have been what it was. Absence seems to be what we feel when we experience the lack of some aspect of a relationship we have known. The presence of the one, be it memory, communication, or even a deceased loved one’s body, all serve to remind us of all the ways one is not present.

People tell me that sometimes God seems absent. Our theology says that it is impossible for God to be completely absent, our then there would be no one to miss the Presence. Is not what we call the absence of God a sense of the lack of what one had at once time, or a wish for something one has witnessed in another? It can even take the form of a deadening meaninglessness, for in that meaninglessness is so deadening we know that meaning is vital to our being, and we find it absent. Is not the wound of love precisely felt in the absence, when the totality of the presence of the other is somehow incomplete? St. John of the Cross explores this eloquently in The Dark Night of the Soul, Teresa of Avila in The Interior Castle, and Teresa of Calcutta in her letters to her confessor. With the God who is omnipresent the sense of absence we feel is invariably due to the limitations of our incompleteness. It inspires a holy discontent that fuels the spiritual journey.

No wonder mindfulness (or contemplation—choose your word) is such a powerful thing, when somehow we approach full presence to the eternal Presence, when we become present to the Present! Of course, to do that we must somehow become absent to all the things that are, in reality, absent.

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