Gospel Reading: Mt 20: 17-28. The Son of man came not to be served but to serve
The Promised Land is woven into the journey we make towards it at every stage. Prove this statement. Let’s try.
The first proof yesterday was that the most authentic food (manna) that supports us on this trek is an actual experience, albeit limited by time and space, of the real presence of this Land here and now. Another way of experiencing this is Presence.
As the spiritual dimension is awakened progressively by regular contemplative practice many people become aware of a presence in their life. They will often say, as I would, that it gives them a feeling of guidance and accompaniment. Put like this is can sound a bit creepy or ghostlike; but it’s not like that. It’s not a separate entity that informs or manipulates you or interferes with your freedom to choose and take responsibility. Some people do interpret it like that. But then it’s usually a constructed fantasy or in extreme cases a mental pathology.
Perhaps the Presence I mean is better understood as a modifying of our self-consciousness. As we grew up and a sense of self developed (healthily or not depending on circumstances), we became present to ourselves, self-aware, self-judgmental, self-observing. ‘O why did I say that? I feel I’m a failure. If people knew what a mess I am they would never have given me this job. Or (occasionally) I am the greatest). This presence to ourselves can become a burden, even an affliction. Increasingly, we would like to shake it off and just be ourselves, spontaneous and un-self-conscious.
With a growing contemplative consciousness, this intense self-consciousness is modified. We still know when we have put our foot in our mouth but we are less hard on ourselves, less touchy and self-protective. Where does this change come from? Some would say, from an increasing sense of God’s presence. This sense is like the other physical senses and the sixth sense of intuition. It is inborn but needs to be released and grow. The presence of God is not like an extra person in the room or our shadow. It is an ‘I Am’ that doesn’t compete or threaten. It comes to be understood as what makes us able to be present to ourselves to others, to the world – and to God.
This I Am is everywhere. You can’t escape it and why would you want to? If you try to, you are trying to run away from yourself. It doesn’t bully or pull our strings but accompanies us in good times and bad. When we are good, we feel in greater union with it. When we are bad it doesn’t withdraw or get angry, although we may withdraw and project our anger.
The Exodus tribe in the desert were accompanied by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When I first heard that as a child, I remember thinking how kind it was of God to adapt his presence to them according to their capacity to be aware of it. As the Gospel today reminds us, he came to be present to us in order to serve us rather than to be served.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2021