The Emergence of Presence 


 A new friend told me recently that someone very close to her had died, and she had a point to make about it.

 Which was to express her surprise that she had not fallen apart, but had come together! The intensity of grief had opened her up, rather than closed her down. 

 In fact the experience of loss had given her some some kind of grace and she now felt herself to be present to ’something out there.’ She is sure now that 'there is more than this life.'    

 She told me that she thinks harder and questions more. Previously not the slightest bit interested in religion, she is surprised to find that she now feels religious, in some sense.

 The grief in a certain sense pulverized her usual level of awareness and has launched her into greater and fuller dimensions.

 A former way of thinking - or way of perceiving - has been dislodged and replaced by a higher awareness - a new consciousness. 

 She thus lives in new territory. In a new domain. In a new reality. In deeper dimensions.

 I have felt this young woman’s emerging presence since meeting her in the cafe where she waitresses and where I study and write.

 My very clear sense is of someone who is more than a waitress, and, incidentally, more than a student, which she also is.

 She is, in fact, more than any role she plays. She is more than any kind of role, object, thing, or it. She is an emerging presence. Indeed, a vital, striking presence.

 Opened by grace to new dimensions, she has also found a match in a friend who shares the same intoxicating level of awareness. 

 These two young adults have become co-presences to spiritual influences. In their life together, they are filling out into multi-dimensions of being.

  Arriving at the cafe the other day, the haunting and melodic music of Gregorian chant filled the air.

 The choice of music reflects the quality of my friend's inner state. As she is being transfigured, so is the cafe.

 Which brings me to the French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel, (1889-1973) who wrote about the transforming effect of relationships where persons becomes presences to each other.

 Marcel has often been called the philosopher of communion because of his emphasis upon a quality of shared intimacy that opens human beings into eternal dimensions.

 Which makes Marcel to be, as Frederick Copleston says, “a very different kind of thinker,” who, “described a different kind of world.” Different because of his emphasis upon the quality of inter-personal relationships, thereby placing him miles apart from his contemporary, Jean-Paul Sartre, the atheist existentialist.

 Marcel’s very different approach, in other words, has more to do with concrete, intimate experience and less to do with philosophical abstractions.

 During World War 1, while serving with the French Red Cross, Marcel had been given the assignment of tracing soldiers who had been listed as missing.

 As he searched for names and information, he broke past data - facts and  details - to behold 'real, though invisible, persons.'

 For Marcel, these names on lists became more than missing soldiers. They were presences to him.

 By perceiving the missing soldiers as presences, the result was that he shared in the agony of their grieving relatives. 

 Now, the effect of Gabriel's approach was to open him up, when it might have closed him down. 

 He might have remained yet another unfeeling philosopher, living in a world of abstract thought, far removed from life. 

 But he chose to feel life, to feel persons as presences and therefore to feel grief instead of shutting himself down.

 "I wish to encourage you in your pain so that you experience it in all of its fullness,” said the poet, Rilke, to someone in grief.

 Rilke called the grief "a new intensity.” He called it "a great experience of life.” And then confidently wrote: "It will in turn lead back toward life.” 

 That is, Rilke's council was to go fully into the pain. To feel the grief.

 Rilke's message was that in so doing that you will emerge on the other side of it as a feeling presence. 

"I am filled with fear," said Rilke, "when I imagine how you have cut off and limited your life at this point, afraid of touching anything full of memories."

 "You will freeze up,” warned Rilke, "if you keep doing that. You must not dear, you have to keep moving.” 

 The message from Rilke was not to put a lid on the grief, but to feel it. (On Loss, Dying and Death, in Letters on Life by Rainer Maria Rilke, p. 113)

 The danger of grief is its possible freezing effect. Which Gabriel Marcel called getting crispated.

 To be crispated is to become tense and encrusted. 

 You are crispated when you are creating a shell around you. A shell that gets harder over time and effectively imprisons you.

 Thus locked-up and bound, you are no longer able to be a presence. You are the absence of presence.

 In such a crispated state, you are no longer able to be juiceily present, but remain dried up and enclosed.

 You are no longer available to experience what Marcel calls either “trembling freshness,” or “trembling tragedies.

 Crispated. A horrible fate to be avoided at all costs.

 And therefore choose to feel. Choose to grieve. Choose to be present to whatever comes your way.

 Find a way to be with it. To experience it. 

 To the degree that you do that, will be the degree to which you will be able eventually to be any kind of presence to anyone. 

 To emerge as a vital presence in our broken world is an enormous gift to it.

 The world needs more emerging presences, like my young friend in the cafe, like Gabriel Marcel, like Rilke.


Ant. Gloria, Benedictine Nuns