The word presence is both evocative and illusive. Communion with nature can fill us with a sense of deep unifying presence in creation. People speak of a prayful presence or feeling the presence of the sacred or God. A gathering of people with a strong shared commitment can feel the elevation of their spirits in their collective presence. In our solitude, in suffering, and in loss the heart yearns for and can finds a comforting and reassuring sense of presence deep within or surrounding us. In each of these examples presence relates to experiences that are uniquely personal and immediate and at the same time touch a transcendent awareness.
As Unitarian Universalists we lift up the significance of presence in our First Source which invites us to inspiration through “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder affirmed in all cultures which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uplift life.” It’s part of our tradition to recognize that we each experience in our own unique ways the sense of presence that joins us with life’s sources and mysteries. In those moments, which may feel all too fleeting, spiritual renewal, a sense of expansive love, and a soulful connection and sense of belong are all possible.
Presence is a felt sense that’s tangible and sensory, a full body, mind, and spirit awareness. This felt sense, while being fully experiented through our senses and emotions, may not conform to a rational or logical certainty. Instead, to use the phrase of Unitarian Universalist minister Jacob Trapp, it “has the sureness of the feel of the apple in the hand.”
The distinction between logical and experiential certitude reminds me of one of the self-deprecating joke about Unitarian Universalists that makes the rounds. It goes, “If given the choice, would a Unitarian Universalist rather go to heaven or a discussion group about heaven?” We laugh as we recognize our penchant for analysis and talking things through to seek better understanding. Contemplating how we’ve experienced life and its transcending mysteries is an invitation to recognize other ways we’ve come to understanding ourselves and our world.
So this month we ask, “What is your direct experience of presence in your life?” or said other ways, “What is your direct experience of the transcendent; the sacred; the holy?” Whatever your language and however fleeting or momentary your encounters may be, these memorable moments in nature, with each other, in contemplation or prayer, in music and art, feed our yearning souls. Woven together over time they bring us joy, depth, and access to more soulful presence in all our daily living.
Blessings for your journey,
Rev. Dr. Frances Sink
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation