Some believe presence or the divine is found only in silence, in pastoral settings, in ashrams, churches, or synagogues. Or among priests and pious people in religious or spiritual settings.
But the truth is, presence is everywhere. Omnipresent.
So presence is just as much there with the waitress serving up a cheeseburger and a beer at the Nook tavern, as with a seeker inquiring “Who am I?” on the slopes of India’s Mount Arunachala.
It’s there too with the cooks and dishwashers amid the clatter of pots and pans in a bustling restaurant kitchen as it is with devotees chanting Om Namah Shivaya at an ashram in Oakland, California.
Presence is as much there in the fits and starts of traffic-choked I-94 at rush hour in downtown St. Paul, as it is with the crucifix- carrying priests at St. Cecilia’s.
Even in chaos
Even in the ferocity of combat presence is there. In his early years, William Samuel, a wise philosopher from Mountain Brook, Alabama, commanded an infantry company during the Korean war. Here, in his book, The Child Within Us Lives, he describes a brutal clash with an oncoming wave of Chinese troops:
Hell erupted in a manner no one can sufficiently describe. In the early moments of that terrible onslaught my world went silent and I was enveloped in an immeasurable calm... I was beset with a serenity that let me move fearlessly to do whatever the moment asked me to do, as hideous as the time was... I was seeing and feeling life’s eternal nature, even in the face of death.
We miss the fullness, the profound depth of presence when we set it apart, reserving it only for places believed holy, sacred, or religious.
Are you looking for me?
I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against
You will not find me in stupas,
not in Indian shrine rooms, nor in synagogues,
nor in cathedrals: not in masses, nor kirtans,
not in legs winding around
your own neck, not in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly—
You will find me in the
tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
—Kabir, Ecstatic Poems, translated by Robert Bly
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold
thou art there....
The Holy Bible, Psalm 139: 7-8
Chanting is no more
holy than listening to the murmur of a stream, counting prayer beads no more sacred than simply breathing, religious robes no more spiritual than work clothes.
—Lao Tzu, Hua Hu Ching,
The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, translated by
—Sailor Bob Adamson, interviewed by Peter Lawry on YouTube: “If it’s the absolute, is there anything that’s not absolute?”