© Barbara F. Meyers 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
July 1, 2012


Something magic happens when one is truly present to another. Today I'll talk to you about the concept of Presence and why I view it as holy. I'll begin with three stories from my ministry:


Olive and the Homeless Shelter

Patti and Anxiety

Tammy and the psych hospital

What these three stories have in common is this: the presence of another human being can be profoundly healing. For me, this revelation which I have experienced many times, has become part of my theology. I see the Holy, some call it God, in three places: as being in the heart of each person, as being between people and as being transcendent. It is the "between" two people where I find something more than the two individual people themselves. Something more is there. Something that wouldn't be there unless the two people weren't in each other's presence.

I don't mean to imply that just sitting around another person brings presence. One needs to be fully present, open one's mind and heart to the feelings of the other. This is holy space. It happens when one surrenders to receive what is found there.

The UU minister Rev. James Ishmael Ford expresses it this way: "Through presence, we can discover the incredible beauty, the magnificent wonder, of a divine mutuality. This presence to mutuality may be called love, may be called compassion, may be called God."

You may recall that I am a spiritual director. A lot of the work of spiritual direction involves a spiritual director being present to you as you are discovering your spiritual path. He or she will walk, listen as you uncover your true purpose, and support you as you discover your true path. He or she will point out things that you may not be able to see because they are too close to your field of vision. It is the magic of presence that helps make these changes take place.

In the work I have done with my spiritual director, I've found that the most profound insights come when I can take something that has emerged from our conversation and surrender to it.

Here is an example from a couple of months ago: Recently, I've decided to move on from producing my 30-minute TV show to a format which is shorter, more intimate, a closer telling of stories. When my spiritual director asked me: "Where do you see God in moving away from your TV show to doing sort videos?" The answer came in a flash: " God is there saying 'Come on, you can do it!' "

I've discovered that when I am open to that emergence of the holy and can recognize it as such, I am free to move just about anywhere.

Being fully present with another person is a two-way gift. A gift to the other person and a gift to you. In my spiritual view, it is God in me recognizing God in you. It is a gift of the holy, of God to both of you.

A verse in the book of Exodus in the Bible expresses it this way: "My Presence will go with thee and I will bring thee rest." [ Exodus 33:14 KJV]

So, how do we become really present to someone else? This is something that people who are chaplains learn to do in order to help soothe and heal the person's spirit in the most difficult of situations. I practiced it as a chaplain in part of my ministerial training. I learned to sit with someone - listen with an open mind and heart to their feelings. I learned to resist the impulse to speak or to answer any questions. Just be with someone, and surrender to receive what is there. This is holy space.

From the stories I related at the beginning of my sermon, you can see that these lessons have been invaluable for me in doing my ministry with people who have serious mental health difficulties. They are used to not being listened to, used to having their ideas and words discounted and characterized as "symptoms", used to living on the margins, used to struggling to live in a way that seems effortless for others. Having someone really listen is a precious gift.

I listen with an open heart. I listen to hear the feelings behind the words, knowing that we are building an emotional bond, for if feelings aren't acknowledged, the insights and conversation will go nowhere. I listen to hear of the coping skills they may or may not have, for if they are weak in this area, there are some things I can tell them that have been helpful to others. Those that they express, I celebrate by pointing them out. I listen for the kernel of truth in talk that is labeled "crazy", for it is almost always there, and it is often the key to really understanding what is going on with them. I listen to be inspired and awed by the courage of a person telling their inner-most thoughts and fears, a person who has persevered beyond the point where many others would have given up, a hero in my book. I listen and trust that sacred stories will emerge. In short, I listen for what I see as the voice of God coming from within them.

When I reflect on their words, I try to find or suggest gratitude in their stories. I try to find or show hope, because I know this is the beginning of healing of the spirit.

Part of the depth of a Unitarian Universalist faith is our reliance on covenant, rather than creed. The word covenant means to come together by making a promise - the promise that members of a religious community make to one another in determining how they will be together in that community. It is what we promise each other when we join together in congregational activities. As Rev. Melissa Ziemer-Carvill points out, "a covenant is more than a promise, but a relationship between ourselves and each other, and the holy, that not only calls us to our higher purpose but also offers forgiveness when we fall short."

Central to the idea of covenant is that we must learn how to be present to each other. Being present to each other is what creates balm for our spirits and makes us a spiritual community. So I'd like to ask you to reflect on how is it that you see that covenant happens here? What examples of it do you see? What opportunities for being fully present are here? Where does the healing happen, healing that can be created by our presence to each other? I suggest that it is present in many different venues: in worship, in small groups, in teaching and attending classes, in the work of pastoral associates and the caring circle, in fellowship and social events, and yes, even in committee work.

In addition to that reflection, I would like to suggest to you a 2-part homework assignment after you go home and are in a quiet place. First, think of a time when someone really listened to you and when you felt really heard. What were the circumstances? Where were you? What did you talk about? How did it make you feel? Did it change you in some way? Does it still move you? Next: Think of how you might really be present to another person. Who would it be? What would you be listening for? I especially encourage you to ask yourself these questions during and after you attend some activity here at Mission Peak.

I'd also like to suggest that you keep the morals of my stories in mind:

May you find ways to give and receive this gift, and may your stories you tell go deep.

So be it.


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