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When the mind wanders we become absent-minded. Can you remember times in childhood when you were happily daydreaming in class only to be abruptly called back to the present by the teacher asking you a question about what he had been saying? We might have felt silly and been laughed at even by our friends. “Off in your own world again Freeman? Would you like to tell us all what you were thinking?” Horrible thought.


Later we discover how hurtful and disappointing it is when we think we are present with others and even open the door of our heart to them only to find they only seemed to be there but were actually miles away. In today’s gospel Jesus takes his friends apart specially to share with them what he knows about his fateful destiny. They don’t understand what he said. Mark, who always seems to me closer to the real event, tells us they were too frightened to ask. To risk loving trust and be coldly greeted by fearful silence is rejection where it hurts most: to fall into the loneliness of absence with those you wanted to be present with.
Presence simply means being. Being contains infinite seeds of becoming, unlimited potential. In itself, though, being just is which means we don’t have to do anything while we are being. It does itself. (Meditation is not a waste of time). Being present means to be in the same place, at hand, within reach, being a contemporary. So, we co-experience what those we are present with are undergoing and become capable of free-flowing compassion. We shouldn’t need to take a course on how to be compassionate or a good listener. A daily, contemplative practice germinates the seed of compassionate attention in the eternal womb of being that is waiting to be awakened in us. The teacher within calls us out of our reverie. Then the union of inner practice and the events of life brings about a bursting capacity for presence which is what the mystics call the birth of God.
We become like God: how can we not feel compassion? A famous heart surgeon told me once he had tried meditating but stopped because it made him too compassionate towards his patients. He had understood something of meditation. He had not yet grasped that being present to others expands us beyond any of the passing moments in time which are only gestures of presence. Reality dilates as the eye opens to light. This expansion of being strengthens us to endure and to serve in ways we could not have imagined when we were cocooned in our absent-minded, self-absorbed world.
To be fully present – shall we make it our contemplative goal for Lent? – is not just for here and now but for everywhere and everywhen. It is metanoia to become conscious of all dimensions of reality not merely those of time and space where we begin.
Returning to the present is to find ourselves on both sides of the open door simultaneously and naturally. It means we don’t have to lose the gift of being in whatever task our destiny calls us to do. Meditation is the opening of the door.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2023
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