In a world where email substitutes for the power of penmanship; where Blackberries, whose sole purpose is to keep us connected, often to the point of intrusion on vacations and family dinners; and online communities substitute for true community where people’s body language figures into the equation of relationship, I believe above all in the power of one’s physical presence.
As a pastor I have been humbled by the times when my presence is invited to be a part of people’s most intimate moments. A family calls in crisis and invites me to pray at the bedside of a dying beloved father. A mother calls to tell me that her two month old son is not expected to live through the night. A friend asks me to be present while she delivers her stillborn child. A best friend and life long running partner requests that I baptize her and her two young daughters on the day of her 38th birthday. A colleague and soul-mate in ministry invites me to run with him on a cold Saturday morning.
It is in these moments when I am humbled not only that my presence was requested, but also astounded at the blessings I receive as I offer myself to others.
It was not until my own father was near death that I understood the power of someone’s physical presence. When the hospital chaplain walked in the hospital room where my father lay connected to breathing machines and other beeping instruments, in the midst of that chaos, a calm came over me knowing that someone cared enough to place my needs before their own. It was the intent and the effort of the chaplain’s physical presence that overwhelmed my heart with a knowledge that I was important, that my dad, even in his weakened state, mattered. Certainly a phone call would have been comforting. A greeting card with words of encouragement could have provided the same message. However, his physical presence in the hospital room made an intense distinction in level of significance my father’s life made in the world at large and in my family.
What does our physical presence communicate when we show up to work in the morning? What do our children learn when we leave work early to come to a play, a soccer game, a chess tournament? What does an aging parent understand about their place in our lives when we visit them for the weekend, rather than staying home to check two more things off the endless “honey-do” list? What does the widow in the nursing home believe about herself when we take the time to spontaneously stop by with chocolate chip cookies, just to say hello?
I believe that there is power in one’s physical presence. This power is one that must be guarded and never abused, never manipulated, never guilt-inducing. Our presence can bring life or destroy the spirit. Our presence can lift up others or devastate a community.
Our presence is the most profound gifts we can offer another human being and a gift that others have offered me in ways I will never understand. I hope that my presence will be a gift to others and that I will offer this gift freely with the world.
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