Richard Rohr on Presence

The contemplative, non-dualistic mind withholds from labeling things or categorizing them too quickly (i.e., judging), so it can come to see them in themselves, apart from the words or concepts that become their substitutes. Humans tend to think that because they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all true, says the contemplative. It is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. “Presence” is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is a much more vulnerable position, and leaves us without a full sense of control, which is why many will not go there.

In some ways, presence is the “one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42), and perhaps the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep your heart open, your mind without division or resistance, and your body not somewhere else. Such simple presence is the practical, daily task of all mature religion and all spiritual disciplines. Once you are “present and accounted for,” you grow from everything, even the problematic and difficult things. If your presence is wrong, you will not recognize the Real Presence even in the Eucharist. The Presence will be there–it always is–but you won’t be. I love to say that it has been much easier for Jesus to teach bread and wine what it is than to teach humans, who always resist their deepest and simplest identity.

Ultimate Reality cannot be seen with any dual operation of the mind, where we eliminate the mysterious, the confusing, and anything scary, unfamiliar, or outside our comfort zone. Dualistic thinking is not naked presence to the Presence, but highly controlled and limited seeing. With such software, we cannot access things like infinity, God, grace, mercy, and love–the necessary and important things! I would not respect any God I could figure out with my limited, rational mind. St. Augustine said the same in the fifth century: “If you understand it, then it is not God” (Si comprehenderis, non est Deus).

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