Spirit Alive: Are you present?


This is the third installment of a weekly blog titled Spirit Alive that will look at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

September 29, 2015

With Heart, Soul, and Mind

“Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 22: 37-39

Are you prepared for what is about to take place?
I’m not talking about planning for some future event or having the supplies you need in case of a natural disaster. I’m talking about being ready for what is happening in your life right now. Hello! Are you actually reading this article or is your mind someplace else already?

The truth of the matter is there are a lot of distractions all around us all the time, and it is hard to stay focused on what is right in front of us.

In April, a number of leaders from the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area gathered for what was called a “Circles of Presence” event. The goal of these sessions was to help us become more fully present to ourselves and others by taking time to connect with our minds, spirits, and bodies in a more integrated manner, so that we could be fully present with others. The sessions weren’t about more information to absorb, but about being present, open, and showing up where we are.

Several of the exercises reminded me of watching athletes prepare for a sports event. At the time, the NBA playoffs were taking place, and I could envision LaBron James or Stephen Curry stretching before taking the basketball court to do their warm-ups and then play in a NBA Playoff Game. But it could as easily have been Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, and Abby Wambach going through their routines prior to their Women’s World Cup Soccer matches this summer…or college or professional players getting ready for their games this fall. Athletes are always warming up before competing. It’s part of being ready to play. Success on the court, field, or pitch takes place long before the actual games do, but being ready to play well is also determined by the warm-ups done right before the game.

Spiritual Exercise
All this raises a question for us as spiritual beings: Are we prepared for what is about to take place in our lives? Are we ready to be fully present—with body, soul, and mind—for our next meeting, for the  worship service we are about to attend, or even for the next conversation that comes our way? Sure life is always full of surprises, but are we actually present where we are? Do those we are talking with really get our full attention? Are we centered enough to make a difference in what happens around us?

If real presence is something we value from others, then it would make sense that we ourselves are prepared to be present as well. In fact, if presence is something that is so important to human connection, then “absence” and “distraction” would seem to be its opposite.

When was the last time you asked someone a question, but didn’t stay around long enough to hear the response? Have you ever attended a meeting only to find yourself and others buried behind a laptop rather than contributing to the conversation? Have you heard yourself say: “This is going to be a waste of my time” before the experience even unfolds. People do these things all the time. Yet the stories recorded in the scriptures remind us that holy encounters can take place at any moment. Gandhi put it this way: “If you don’t find God in the very next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for God any further.”

So…are you really present?
In Exodus 3, when Moses encounters the burning bush, I don’t think that it was an accident that he took off his shoes, because that’s when he finally realized that he was standing on “holy ground.” It may just be that he had to do this kind of body, mind, and soul warm-up in order to see the burning bush that had been there all along. True communion and connection is about such things…pausing, noticing, caring, listening, seeing….Maybe this is why Jesus’ message so often is simply: “Wake up!” Be fully present in the moment.

The Buddhist tradition puts the notion of presence at the center of its practice, but Jesus did so as well when he said “the Kingdom of God is in your midst.” In fact, seeing a “burning bush” isn’t a destination resulting from some kind of long, arduous journey; it is simply a matter of being prepared and awake enough to notice the “God things” happening all around us already. Are you doing any spiritual pre-game warm-ups, so that you are ready to encounter your day? And…have you noticed any “burning bushes” in your neighborhood lately?

Blessings on your journey,

Spirit Alive is a weekly blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It will seek out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. These are signs and examples of life that can be expressed in inspiring books, vivid videos, and works of art. Spirit Alive is intended to point to these “signs” in ways that touch our hearts and nurture our faith journeys. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.

Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org