Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Acknowledgement of Presence

I think that they lonely are often so, not because they don't have people in their lives, but that they have so many people in their lives who don't acknowledge their presence.

A couple of months ago I decided to start saying hello to whoever came into my presence.  Whether walking down the street or sitting in Panera Bread or something, I now simply say hi or hello to everyone.  The responses are often humorous.  More often than not, I catch them off-guard and they're not too sure what to do (it's simple really...just say hi back!).  Sometimes it'll take them 2 or 3 seconds and they might be 5-10 feet behind me now (if we're walking past one another) and they'll respond.  Pretty much everyone responds, though some don't.  No one's punched me yet, so I think I'll keep doing it.

I'm becoming more and more a believer in presence.  Presence begins with a physical proximity.  Sometimes this is enough - just to be present in one's life, much like the Jewish practice of a shiva call.  Shiva is the grieving process put into place after the death of a Jew.  When people visit those who've had the loss, they come just to be present: not to talk and not to offer trite cliches about "another angel in heaven."  From Wikipedia: "Traditionally, no greetings are exchanged and visitors wait for the mourners to initiate the conversation, or remain silent if the mourners do not do so, out of respect for their bereavement."  When I've tried this, it's been hard...the modern tendencies of our society are word-based and we always think we have to say something.  Often, it's better not to, as St. Francis also reminds us.

But then there are the times when we just completely ignore each other's close proximity.  It's these ones I'm trying to challenge myself about.  It's not that I'm changing anyone's life in doing this; rather, just the opposite.  I'm hoping that this practice helps me notice others around me.  Our own agendas (even if the agenda is boredom or procrastination!), our busyness, and so many other things direct us to focus on what we're thinking, doing, or even not doing.

I'm still floored by the Joshua Bell story.  I'm not saying that I would have stood there for the whole 45 minutes, but I'd still like to think I'd stop to listen.  I wouldn't have known who he was and I wouldn't have picked out that the violin was a Stradivarius, but I do recognize good classical violin.  Yet I probably would have been like most anyone else that day: too distracted by whatever to see the beauty in front of me.  It makes me wonder how often we do this every day.

Joshua Bell Story from City Church Chicago on Vimeo.


  1. Wow, your right. I do like this video. And it's so true too. On the T, I'm always just walking by those playing and sometimes I feel annoyed.. that's inspiring! thanks for sharing that video!

  2. hey man...right there with you. been sitting on this idea of presence, of resting in the presence of God and thus being able to be fully present with those i see everyday...thanks