As we sit on the couch buried in our phones after work looking at our social media accounts, I ask my husband a serious question. Alex always thinks before he responds to my questions, so when I was met with silence I was patient and didn't respond. A half hour (and several scrolls through Facebook and a few rounds of Solitaire) later, I remembered that I had asked a question and never had an answer [or maybe he did answer, and I missed it because I was reading about someone's Pinterest fail]. So I asked, "Hey did you hear me ask a question?" Alex responded, "What? No."
We are sitting a cushion away on the couch but are we present?
I love having our parents come to visit us. I love to share a cup of coffee and blueberry muffins in the morning with my mom. I love to show Alex's parents our favorite dining in Charlotte. I love to show our Grandmas around the Peach Stand and walk with our friends on the Greenway. But I'm also an anxious host.
My mother never leaves a dish in the sink and wipes down strangers' counters. She always empties the coffee grinds into the trash and does a load of towels in the laundry every day. Meanwhile, I will let my sink fill up until I can't fit anything else in, and I wipe the counters down on Fridays. I always forget the coffee grinds until the next morning, and my hubby is the laundry guru on Saturdays and Sundays. We have wonderful silver pitchers and plates in our home, which I know need to be polished, and we have half finished furniture and decorative projects everywhere. When we have guests, I find myself nervously over-cleaning and making sure that everything is prim and pressed and perfect for their arrival and stay with us. My house is clean, but did I hear what my guest just told me? My silver is polished but am I present?
A friend calls me while I'm watching the Penguin game in a crisis about something very difficult in her life. A youth texts me during dinner about something they are struggling with. The store clerk at Target tells me to have a great day, and I stumble along with my bags out the door. Do I have the patience and inner peace to really be present in these moments? Or am I so busy inside my own head I can't be bothered to notice and be in the space of today?
While I soaked up some Sabbath time over the last week of stay-cation, I reflected often on the idea of being fully present, of noticing the world around me, and being non-anxiously aware of the world and my inner self. This appears to be one of the ways God is speaking to and teaching me on my journey right now...
Jesus: the example and the teacher
In the world, we often hear of being present as a trendy, hipster, Buddhist notion. You download the Headspace app and practice yoga and go unplugged for a weekend. It doesn't necessarily sound, at least to me, like a fully Jesus-inspired, uniquely Christian concept. What I've been reflecting on is something kind of similar, but wholly different. When I think of being present, I think of two stories of Jesus that show how he taught and lived out the principle of being present in life today.
The Teacher: Mary and Martha
In Luke 10.38-42, we find Jesus at the home of two women. It is here that Jesus teaches us the lesson of presence. Mary and Martha could not be more opposite of one another, nor could they bicker more and be more bitter toward one another. Martha, who might be my kindred spirit, runs around the house like a chicken with her head cut off making sure she is hospitable. She is cleaning, cooking, setting the table, observing all the right societal customs and traditions. No silver would be unpolished, no counter unwiped, and certainly no coffee grounds would be left in her kitchen, if she were around today. Martha exemplifies this perfect, fastidious host, and in spite of the rest of the story, she has my greatest admiration and respect. I feel a touch of exhilaration just thinking about her experience of dinner preparations.
Mary, on the other hand, plops down in front of Jesus to hear him speak, leaving her sister with the weight of all the chores. Sometimes I imagine her like my brother, who loves to sit on the recliner in my parents' house in his robe until the very last second on Christmas Day. It comes to the point where Martha speaks up:
Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!
I think we can all agree this is a reasonable request, given the circumstances of the meal and the household and the society at the time. But Jesus' response is surprising and, well, present:
You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
Um, seriously Jesus? In Pittsburgh, we would call Mary a "jagoff" (for not helpin' to red up the haaase n'at). What can this lazy bum, this annoying little sister, this freeloader, what can she possibly teach us?!?!?!
Let's look at Mary. Mary recognizes that it's not every day that the Messiah enters your house. She realizes that she may only have a couple of hours to be with Jesus: to hear his teachings first hand, to experience his compassionate eyes and soft voice, to watch him heal and save, to shake his hand and wash his feet, to be present. As Jesus captivates her gaze, the preparation of dinner (and the polishing of the silver, and the wiping of the counters, and the dumping of the coffee grinds) seems inane, unimportant, and irrelevant in comparison to the experience of Jesus in her midst. A perfectly clean home and a perfectly cooked meal and perfectly polished sliver, these things are temporary; the experience of Jesus in your midst is the kind of incarnational experience that lasts a lifetime, an eternity.
Through the example of Mary, Jesus teaches us the importance of presence in our daily lives, that if we are slaves to the things of society and of the world, we will miss our opportunity to do what is right and to be present at the feet of Jesus.
The Life: The Hemorrhaging woman
It's one thing to teach; it's another thing to live the example. Of course, we would expect nothing less from Jesus, but it is telling that the gospel of Luke contains both a teaching of Jesus on the matter of presence (Mary and Martha) and an action of Jesus that demonstrates his presence with other people.
In Luke 8, a man named Jairus comes to Jesus because his daughter is dying. Jesus begins walking to the man's home and the crowds follow. I always imagine Jesus walking at a very slow pace with a smirk on his face because he's proving that God has a plan for this day. [Also the Jesus of my imagination is a little sassy...I hope that's true.]
There are people pressing in all around him and the crowd is reminiscent of an unrelenting, sweaty mosh-pit of over-excited Harry Stiles fans. I can't imagine this was a very fun journey for Jesus.
If it were me, I'd be like, let's just get through this as quickly as possible. Let's go another way to avoid the crowds. Let's use clothes-lining and violence if we have to. But not Jesus. Not only is Jesus intimately surrounded by humans and incidental touch and crowds, but he manages to be so present that he notices and identifies the touch of one person. Luke 8.42-44 tells us that a woman who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years came to Jesus and touched his cloak for his healing power. Jesus could have ignored this and just said, cool, another anonymous soul healed! He could have concentrated on the family of Jairus, the task at hand, and getting to Jairus' daughter before she died. Jesus was busy. Instead, Jesus turns to find out who touched him, approaches the woman face to face, calls her "daughter," and proclaims that her faith has healed her.
Jesus shows us that he is never too busy, too hurried, too distracted, or too important to notice us and meet us where we are.
It's May. May always seems to whip past me in a blur of graduation parties, cook-outs, field days, and Stanley Cup playoff games. It's sort of the perfect time to watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off and take the message to heart:
I think in the chaos of early summer and the crowds of our lives in May, Jesus is calling us to be present. Jesus is telling us to stop being Martha, to put down the spring cleaning and the dinner plans and the parties and the concerts and to be present in our homes and in our families. Jesus is showing us how to be present in the crowd, to hear the cries of our children and the struggles of our neighbors, to listen with compassion to the hurts of our friends and the life stories of our families.
Because it is in these acts of presence and moments of intimacy, it is there, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that we find ourselves face-to-face with Jesus.