Wednesday, 20 November 2013

An Awareness of Presence

..........What is this sense of 'presence'? What is its name? Is it what the religious call God? I learned a great deal about God when I was a child. I knew that I was supposed to love him with all my heart. And I did try, but I did not like him very much, or what he would do to me if I sinned - which I felt I often did. In the deepest part of my child's heart I was very afraid of him. He was so much like my father, and I lived in terror of them both. In the end the strain of trying to love them both became too great. My father thankfully died and I turned away from God. Yet the sense of 'presence' remained and continues to do so.
          Maybe it is Jesus the Christ, though I do not think so. He was never really there for me. He was always too busy being perfect and suffering a lot. That still seems to be his major attraction for millions of people. Not for me. I tried hard enough, and for long enough, to be perfect, whatever that might mean. I do not need his blood and suffering: I have enough of my own.
          What of the Holy Spirit? In my childhood he, the third member of the divine trinity - a concept I never understood - was not spoken of very much. He was the mysterious one that I steered well clear of in case I accidentally blasphemed against him. Had I done so I would have been damned and eternally unforgiven. As a child, that was too terrible to contemplate. Yet was he not sent to be the Comforter?
          So who or what are you, this 'presence'? I do not know, so how can I name you? You seem to appear in various guises, often, I suspect, unrecognised. Sometimes I am aware you have been present only when you have moved aside, when I seem to catch a fleeting glimpse of you out of the corner of my left eye. When I think of you I am overcome by a deep sense of longing. Where does that come from? Whatever you are, you feel very real and very close.......... 
                                                                   [Excerpt from my private diaries]

It was in my twenties, with my first marriage showing the first deep cracks that would eventually lead to fracture, that I rebelled against, and rejected the idea of God. It was a very specific event followed by three days of total, inner darkness. Love seemed to be turning sour on me, not that I was greatly surprised. All my previous experience of relationships within my family had prepared me for this. Love was weakness, to be despised as a refuge for those without any strength of character. Duty and responsibility were the only things that mattered. Service in their names was what marked out a strong human being from the rest. And God, also of course, was love. That alone was sufficient cause to reject him.

Yet in rejecting God I did not become an atheist, a philosophy I rejected as arid, and without any more evidence to support it than there was material evidence to support theism. It was simply that God had become an irrelevance in my life. It took me many years to realise, with some relief, that what I had rejected was a fundamentalist, anthropomorphic concept of God. And that was the beginning, both of a descent into spiritual devastation, in which my life became a wasteland, and the eventual ascent to a new world of awakened spirituality, a world of love as I had never understood it before. 

During the many weeks I have mulled over this diary entry, I have discovered that what I thought was a probing into something about which I felt a great deal of confusion and uncertainty, has turned out to be a moment of some significance on my inner journey. However, that moment cannot stand in grand isolation in an inner universe that is a process of Becoming. There must be follow through, necessary consequences. I know in my heart what that development must entail if I am to stay on the path that all my judgement tells me is the correct path. Yet still I hesitate, put off the moment, and each time I do so something crops up to nudge me forwards. It must surely be wonderful and uplifting to have my footsteps thus guided, but at the same time my natural sense of rebellion says that, on occasion, it is also not a little annoying. What is this God, this presence, this Hound of Heaven that snaps gently but persistently at my heels?

The simple answer to that question is that I do not know. I have never known what that presence is, only that it is there, most often just out of sight, or at least hidden in full view. When it moves.......ah yes!.......then I receive an intimation of something beyond my understanding or conception. And I cannot escape the conviction that that presence is also a living and loving presence, and one that will not put up with any of my recalcitrance nonsense.

It isn't an easy path that I have chosen, yet it is one which I cannot not follow. And if that presence is God, that is to say the supreme focus of my life, then God is what I shall call it.


  1. As we hipsters used to say back in the 50's, "deep, man, deep."

  2. your childhood, tom, sounds rather dismal. i am glad you have found love in the time since. i cannot imagine a remembrance of childhood without laughter and joy. and now you are being drawn to something greater still - how mysterious and exciting!

  3. Your words bring to mind the 56th chapter of the Tao-te ching. I usually reach for the Feng-English (1972) translation first. They speak of the "primal union" ... "He who has achieved this state is unconcerned with friends and enemies, with good and harm, with honor and disgrace. This therefore is the highest state of man."

    I've recently discovered Wing-Tsit Chan's 1963 translation with comments and notes, and he translates the concept of hsüan-t'ung as "profound identification."

    I honour your focus, dear Tom, and I hope you find the presence you seek.

  4. Agnieszka; I recently made the decision no longer to publish the details of my childhood on Gwynt, at least the details as I experienced them in the "out there" world. You are beginning to see why.

    Yes, I am being drawn to something greater, and the mystery of it all is exciting. I hope that in the months to come I will be able to find words to describe that ongoing experience, words which will cut through pre-existing ideas.

  5. Rouchswalwe; One of the aspects of the spiritual life that occurs again and again is the sense of paradox. It seems to me that the concept of 'hsuan-t'ung' - profound identification, is so spot-on yet can only be achieved by complete dis-identification and detachment, the idea that lies behind the opening paragraph of your comment.

    There was a moment in the depths of a meditation, some years ago, when I "knew" I would "see" the God of the Presence. I am as certain as I can be that your hope will come to fruition.

  6. It doesn't take much of a leap to notice the Christian Trinity neutered the Divine Mother image into the 'Holy Ghost'. The Father and Son are both powerfully masculine figures so it's only logical that the Holy Ghost is more likely to be the Holy Mother. As the three monotheistic faiths have all been heavily patriarchal, an ulterior motive for neutering the divine Mother archetype would not be difficult to see. This isn't the case in non-Western religious traditions where female goddess archetypes have always been part of their cosmogonies.

    I believe that 'presence' we experience is none other than the teacher and awakener of love as an aspect of Ultimate Reality.

  7. Susan; I fear that it did not occur to me that such a leap was possible. Now my father, an ex-Roman Catholic, would not have the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, mentioned in the house when I was a boy. She was only a focus for idolatry. Such can be the effects of childhood brainwashing. It doesn't help that my relationship with my mother was about as negative as I could imagine it to be.

    Having read your comment, however, I do vaguely recall some reference, somewhere, of the Holy Ghost being feminine.

    I cannot thank you enough for opening some shutters in my mind. Some much-needed light must now flow in.

  8. Ellena; I hadn't thought of the Presence in that sense, but yes, why not? That would also supply a link between this current post and the previous "Prayer of Activity" post.

  9. Tom, have you read Martin Buber's "I and Thou"? If not, you absolutely must! It is, for me, the perfect expression of that Presence ("Thou") and its relationship with one's Being ("I").

    I am very moved by your diary entries and if you did, one day, decide to write an autobiography (including all the difficult parts) I would certainly be very interested in reading it.

  10. Natalie; I haven't read anything by Martin Buber, an omission which perhaps I should correct. I do thank you for your comment on my diary entries, but I have to say that the writing of an autobiography has never been on my radar. Publishing a selection of my blog posts has a greater chance of seeing the light of day, but even then I would need some convincing that it would be a viable and worthwhile proposition.