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Presence

We are used to the idea that God and the Lord are 'present'. Or are we? Despite the versicle in the Common Worship edition of the Eucharist where it is announced that, 'The Lord is here.' (and where I think that the response, 'His spirit is with us' is a philosophical and theological conundrum!), it is fairly certain that most of us have never really had to justify this idea of presence, either to ourselves or to others. That is to say, apart from the references in the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament.

But it is also likely that we haven't resorted to ideas of presence as 'ghostly' or something like the chronicled events of performances of mediums - despite the accounts in the Old Testament of Saul resorting to the witch of Endor. And on the other hand the accounts in Luke and John of the risen Jesus participating in a meal are normally regarded as the evangelists' way of saying that this was the resurrected, transformed Lord of God's new creation - a 'one off' event - before the appearances came to an end.

So how can we, as Christians, assume that 'the Lord is here'? Life is certainly three dimensional but it is not normally four or six dimensional. Daily life, life among Christians at worship, is quite soberly of this world where scientific exploration is continually revealing new possibilities about ourselves and the world but not of 'presences' beyond the normal. But that is precisely where we can tip the argument for presence.

Yes, life for the Christian is normal life and needs to be seen to be so. But she or he also believes that in the resurrection of Jesus God has begun transforming the creation, beginning with Jesus. To know that Jesus, the risen Lord is present, is not an extraordinary feeling. Paul strongly believed that as Christ has died and has been raised, so we also have died and have begun to have a share in the new life.

We can, then, discount a prevalent idea that to have a sense of the presence of God or of the risen Lord, is to have a 'feeling' that this is so. It would be better to posit the idea that because we are being transformed from within, as Christians, our sense of the divine presence will arise in the 'mind'. Not in the mind of dreams but in that amazing central processing centre of the brain and 'mind' where the neurons are continually firing, and vivifying our lives in an integrating way, in the normal course of things.

Today we can see again that we are not separate bits glued together by God - body and soul - but integrated people whose whole existence is even more wonderful than we could ever have dreamed of. From the Christian point of view this creation is of God - in ways beyond the literal imagining of modern day 'creationists'. It is in this sense that we could affirm that we have all been touched by God. Perhaps it is when we are able to acknowledge this wonderful creation/transforming power at work in us we are also able to affirm the 'presence'.

One of the problems the church has had to face in two millennia has been the growing knowledge of ourselves and of our environment which today discounts ideas of divine creation and renewal of life. And one of the tools that history gave to the church in that struggle to remain faithful has been the idea of 'presence' at a distance - of a strengthening of the idea of sacrament as vicarious presence.

There have always been those who have affirmed the immediacy of Christ's presence to them but they have generally been seen as the 'outsiders' in the history of the church. Need that be so today? Michelangelo's great fresco of the creation of Adam in the Sistine chapel, still inspires, portraying not so much today an idea of creation, but the greater understanding of that continual 'touch' between the divine and ourselves which we name 'presence'.


© Aelred Arnesen

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