No presence, no encounter

Oct 25, 2021 Michael Bishop listening worship

"No presence, no encounter." This was the simple phrase that stood out for me in a talk given by Trevor Hudson at our spiritual direction course this week. Trevor was making the point that being fully present and attentive is vital in the context of spiritual direction (a listening relationship where the director is carefully listening to the directee and they are together listening to God).

I think the phrase also has broader application. The pace of life and the extent to which we are continually bombarded with information make it very difficult to avoid being in a constant state of distraction. We’ve all experienced having a conversation with someone who is so distracted by their device that they are barely in the room. Sometimes, we have been the person holding the device :) No presence, no encounter.

By contrast, being able to be fully present to the people in our lives is an incredible gift to offer to others. But how do we get better at it? Trevor suggested several helpful practices – these two resonated with me:

  1. Practice emptying: In the same way that Jesus is described in Philippians 2 as “emptying himself”, so we are invited to practice putting aside our opinions, our judgements, our biases and coming into a conversation with an empty heart, open and ready to attentively give ourselves fully to this moment of sacred encounter with another.

  2. Practice doing one thing at a time: Our attempts to multi-task are futile (psychologists tell us that people are not capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time – what happens instead is that our attention flits between the various things we are juggling, increasing our sense of distraction). Trevor suggests we try slowing down as a spiritual practice. Give it a try: make yourself a cup of coffee and just drink the coffee, don’t do anything else!

These practices may be helpful for deepening and enriching our encounters with other people. The same is true of our encounters with God. If worship is encountering and responding to God, our being fully present is key. As we gather this morning to worship God, may you and I be able to come with empty hands and open hearts and give ourselves to this one thing: being fully present in worship before God.