Presence

by James Strachan

If we read the gospels closely, we see that many of Jesus' teaching moments grew out of an occasion when he listened to people, heard their story, and just spent time with them. The story of the rich young man comes to mind (Luke 18:18-23), or the conversation with the woman at the well (John 4:7-23). The Way Jesus taught is not so much a way of talking, or proclaiming, but rather of "being with" people, listening to them, accepting their story with an open heart before any significant speaking takes place.

Too many of us in full-time ministry become accustomed to talking to people, so we forget that just being with them, listening to them, is the most powerful ministry of all. Robert V. Thompson, in his book A Voluptuous God: a Christian Heretic Speaks, reminds us that:

The power of being present is the greatest power we human beings possess. What matters most is not what we say. It is not what we believe or think we know. It is not speaking the right words or offering blessed assurance. What matters most is our capacity to be present with what is, and our simple entering and sharing the mysterious and ambiguous silence.

I would encourage you to explore your own recollection of comforting moments. My guess is that they will involve visions of painful moments when someone - anyone - would just hold you and listen to you. Many times that will have been a mother who was the "minister." It might have been a favourite teacher, or the closest of friends. But the moment of cherished memory will likely involve someone who could enter your world and sit there, quietly, and take it all in.

I worked for 32 years as a Hospital Chaplain, Pastoral Educator, and Family therapist, and in all that time, the most useful thing I did in many situations was be present to another's distress. Can you imagine there is anything helpful or comforting to say when a baby is dying and the parents are sobbing beside the incubator? Or when someone has just discovered that their partner is deeply involved in an affair with another person, thus shattering the dream of a life-long marriage. Is there something you might say that would east that pain?

Each of us has all the training and experience we need to be present to a friend in pain, or sorrow, or a time of loss. There's an old Quaker saying, "If you can't improve on the silence, then don't speak." There are always people who need someone to be with them, truly "with" them in those times. My guess is that person could be you.

James Strachan is a "retired" United Church minsiter who lives in Ponoka and serves Bashaw part-time.

Congregational News May 2008 Vol. 14 No. 5

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