Present to God and present to my self, then only out of that to be present to others.
That’s what I came away with at the end of my retreat. In a week which was all about an inner work he was doing in my very being, I saw this more clearly than ever. That soul work, by the way, is why – for the grammatical freaks among you – I have written myself as I have. (I clarify that because I know that if I were reading, that would be bothering me. Most of my readers, on the other hand, may be rolling their eyes at me right now, I suspect!)
It was a week like few others. A baptism in his Spirit…again.
Don’t get me on that one, by the way: I just cannot agree with subsequent Spirit-baptism theologically. But like it happened to me in Cambridge those many years ago, something happened again this last week. And I drank more deeply than I have for a long, long while.
Though it was not a silent retreat and though I enjoyed some of our mealtime interactions as a group, I was largely quiet. It was not because those ladies who were there are not beautiful. It was not because I didn’t want to talk long over coffee and laugh and cry and smile again. Part of me did want that. But I hadn’t gone there for that. I’d gone to become present to Jesus again.
And as the hours passed, my heart began to quieten in the beautiful peace of Penhurst. Some places are thin places. This is one of them, a place where the peace of God hangs heavy, his presence at times thicker than I have known. Yes, even as I write this, my CICCU roots begin to stir, to deny the reality of what I am saying I experienced. But I know what I touched this week gone and it was the very stuff of reality.
Something broke on the Tuesday evening. It’s difficult to say what, with these things. But something changed and, in that shifting, I became present to him in a way which I have rarely known. Much about that I cannot share but it was beautiful. I became present to Jesus for those three days such that prayer was natural and my mind was on him. I became present to Jesus for those three days such that he was free to do a deep work in my very self which was beyond my ability even to ask him for.
I became present to Jesus and present to my self and, for that time, largely absent to others. Yet in those rhythms of corporate prayer several times a day, and in the days this week since then, there have been moments of praying for and with others. And what has blown me away is the accompanying power as we have prayed. To move in the prophetic has been as easy as breathing. There has been an unusual assurance of prayers heard. And there have been some of the physical manifestations that can at times move on the frailty of human flesh as we somehow touch the hem of the Almighty’s garment, things which every analytical bone in my overly-intellectual body wants to question and doubt, yet which come upon me despite my efforts at rationalisation.
As I’ve reflected on these times, I’ve been reminded again of one of my sabbatical posts about the kind of leader he calls me to be. There I wrote of the call to stillness, the place of being. The longing to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in God’s presence so that I could be that way in your presence too. It’s the Mary thing again. The reality that it always, always comes back to her for me.
And in this I’ve heard God’s call. Unmistakable in his insistence. Present to God and present to my self, then only out of that to be present to others. That’s what he’s asking of me now. Whereas I tend to fill my life with people whom I can love and serve, whereas I give my time without measure, whereas I become addicted to the activity of it all – and in it all forget him – he now claims my heart. Whereas I have so often been present to others and absent to him and to my self, now he calls me another way.
Present to him and to my self. Disciplined to be mostly absent to others. And, out of that, a new dynamic of presence to him which overflows in presence to others.
Because that kind of presence to others is the only kind worth offering anyway.