Present and Presence

One part of my journey into contemplative practices is the attempt to grow increasingly present in my every day life.  I get these little snapshots, when I am meditating, of what it is like to live fully right here in now: in the present, as it unfolds.

The more I meditate, the more I find myself able to bring this into the rest of my life.  I have these moments of freedom when I am not ruled by my fears of the future or my regrets of the past.  Before I began this journey I had no idea how little I lived in the present.  I am deeply aware now, that this is a lifelong project.  If I lived another hundred years, and spent 99 of them meditating, I think I still would not be fully present.

Tonight, I was thinking about how God identifies himself to Moses with a name that works out to be something like “I am.”  There are all kinds of nuances to this, and implications, and meanings.  I think that one of the attributes of these nuances, implications and meanings is that God is Fully Present.  (All sorts of people have all sorts of ways of thinking about God as Presence…)

To be fully present: totally right here and right now…  This is no less mysterious or awe-inspring than the traditional descriptions of God– all powerful, all knowing, perfectly loving.  In the same way that the fundamental forces of physics all turn out to be the same thing at some fundamental level, I suspect that God’s Perfect Presence, and his never-ending power, and his eternal wisdom, and his unending love…  I suspect all these things, too, ultimately all turn out to be the same thing, too.


Breathing In With Adam, Breathing Out to God

This morning, with my in-breaths, I breathed in with Adam.  As God breathed life into him, I felt that breath coming into me.  It comes in as physical nourishment, of course.  But also life itself.  A primal spark I am re-living.

And with the out-breaths, I knew I was saying God’s name: the Hebrew words given to Adam, carrying a nearly impossible-to-translate meaning, sounds without teeth and tongue.  It is a name above other names, in that it is a thing said through out our lives, countless times.  And it is name beyond names in that it is a thing we do.

When I breathe this way, it feels as though God’s primal spark which enters me with an inhalation, leaves me as an act of worship…  As all worship does, it is begun in Him, comes from Him, returns to Him.

And breathing in that intimate space, lips near mine, like some primal mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, like a kiss.

And when I had done this for some time, as I breathed in, my mantra was “Jesus lived.”  With the held breath my mantra was “Jesus died.”  and as I breathed out “Jesus is coming again.”

And after thirty minutes of this, I was such a mess, a wonderful mess.  These strange sobs– not bad things– were coming up from the deepest parts of me.  I felt the space between God in me to be less than nothing.

There was a part of me that knew I would return to the ordinary way of perceiving.   These flood gates that were thrown wide open wood close.  And I had this sense that this was my doing, this was my act of self-defence, that God would have me that close to him, all the time.

I will head to church in a while, and I will then go about my Sunday.  And then I will enter my week.  I am going to try and do with all those doors within wide open.


#6: God, Popeye, and Me

Imagine that God’s name was not a word; suppose that it could not, in some sense, be said.

Further, imagine that despite this, what if there was a holy person somewhere, who had been saying God’s name?  What if this saint had been saying God’s name since the day he was born and he would continue to say God’s name until the day he died?

What if this holy person was you?  And also me?  And all of us?

For centuries, some people within the Jewish-Christian tradition have believed God’s name is a thing that can not, or should not, be said.  Moses seems to be looking for a name from God, after he has his first encounter.  Moses worries that when he tries to free his people that they will ask him who sent him.  As he generally does, God responds in a way that challenges the assumptions of the question.  We often translate the answer that God gives as “I AM!”  It seems like Moses is looking for a name and he gets something quite different.   (More on that later.)  

Some traditions have resisted writing down God’s name.  Today, this sometimes manifests in putting a dash in the middle, written something like, “G-d.”  Many translations of the bible refer to God as LORD, written in smaller capital letters, as a way to sidestep the naming of our creator.

Rabbis make something of the sounds that made up this name for God.  They are not sounds that are made with the teeth or the tongue.  They are an imitation of the breath itself.  In the modern translation of this name, Yahweh, we get a sense of this.   When you say this outloud, it feels like an exhalation.  

People smarter than me have affirmed that God’s name is the breath itself.

So we have said this name in our waking and our sleeping.  We have said it in our tears and in our deepest joy.  We say God’s name, regardless of the place we live, or the religious tradition we identify as our own, over and over and over again.

When we sit in meditation, we bring a special attention to our breath.  The idea that we might be putting our attention to saying God’s name…  This is pretty amazing to me.   

A thing that makes this even better is that the meaning of this breath-name is perhaps more accurately rendered “I Am who I am, I will be who I will be”

It is amazing enough that these statements have a certain meaning to God.  He is the only necessary thing in the universe, he is the only unchangeable thing that there is.  But even more amazing, “I am who I am, and I will be who I will be” applies  to myself in an entirely different way.  

I love that I focus on my breath, and in some sense I am saying these things about myself.  They are exactly what I want to say as I meditation.

In these words there is a declaration that I am in the present moment.  I don’t need to finish the sentence, “I am” when I meditate.  I don’t need to say ‘I am rich’  or ‘I am sad’ or ‘I am white’ or even ‘I am meditating.’ The fact that I am, that is quite enough.

And as I sit and breathe, I am longing to get past my ego, my delusions, my fear.  I am like Popeye, a bit, when he says that Godly statement ‘I am who I am’  With God, and with Popeye, I am saying ‘Look, this is what you get, this is who I am, and I will stand proud of that.’  

Maybe when you meditate today, your breath can be your mantra.  It can be like a word used to dismiss intrusive thoughts.  Whenever you breathe you are, in some sense, saying God’s name.  But when you do it with intent and awareness, it becomes something new.