Suppose with me for a moment that you can accept the premise that God is with you in the place you live right now, today. Sit for a minute and recall what’s going on in your life. Have you got a child who is in big trouble and you’re scared to death about the outcome of this trial? Is your spouse in an Intensive Care unit? Know anyone in rehab? How are your finances?
Take these two thoughts – God is in this place paired with your current circumstances – and ask yourself: what would my life be like if I KNEW that God was in this place? Before you answer…consider Jacob. He got a great wake up call, made aware by God himself of his presence. And yet…Jacob was still….Jacob. One moment of clarity does not necessarily improve our consciousness of his presence.
Scott (my son) and I were at lunch today. He was commenting about a friend of ours who he believes has become quite a woman of presence. We are aware of all the work she has done to improve her conscious contact with God and both of us see a difference in her demeanor. He recounted a story of seeing her in a situation that might leave many rattled. She was not. She simply carried on, being and doing exactly what was hers to do in the moment – hold a fussy baby. She seemed neither to need for the child to hush nor make excuses for the wailing. She held; she swayed; she let life unfold. It seemed to Scott that this ability to be fully present is a big deal. We talked about how it seems that awareness of God’s presence in the place we are in – no matter what is going on in that place – should make a difference in how we live in that place. That raised another question, “If that’s true, what would that look like?”
In speaking of the role of a pastor, I think Eugene Peterson has captured a concept that actually applies to us all. The word he chose is: witness. He says that a witness is never at the heart of a matter, but is a person who reports what is going on at the center – or, as I have phrased it “in this place”. That’s a witness. Witnesses have one job – report what they see.
A witness need not stress about their role, as there are many other witness voices that add to the chorus, much like the instruments comprise a symphony. Our friend bore witness when she comforted the crying toddler. It wasn’t her job to control or demand change, it wasn’t her job to apologize for the racket or fret over the experiences of others. She did what was hers to do in the moment – comfort this weepy child.
Here’s what it seems like to me. When I remember that God is in this place, and my work is to pay attention and bear witness to both his presence and the place around me, I am neither freaked out nor overwhelmed. As a witness, I am not in the center, but I am valuable. It helps to have a witness around when a community is freaking out or someone is in distress. I believe all of us are called to be a witness. This is our work. Not in some super-spiritualized version of self, but with the authenticity and specificity that is possible when we understand our place in God’s world. Love God. Love others. Respect ourselves. Bear with and bear witness to the presence of God, not by talking about what we know about God but by imitating his character in our daily interactions.