Blog by Alan Seale, September 5, 2022 | Transformational Presence
When a friend recently asked, “How was your summer?” I didn’t know what to say. The summer had brought joyous gifts and celebration as well as profound sorrow and deep pondering. It was, in some ways, more than I could have ever hoped for; in other ways, not at all what I expected. It was the moment-to-moment unfolding of life in all its richness and depth. In that flowing current, I found myself falling deeper into grace. I didn’t have those words for it until now, yet that’s what was happening.
Grace is not such an easy term to define. For me, it’s the sense that a sacred presence or divine energy is with me, bringing a feeling of support, reassurance, courage, and resilient strength to go on. “Falling deeper into grace” is the closest I can come to describe my experience of those sometimes-unexpected moments. The more familiar I become with this feeling of grace, the more I am aware of its abiding presence.
Back to my friend’s question, “How was your summer?” After a slightly awkward pause, I answered, “Wow, it was a lot.” And I was so grateful that it was not the right moment for deeper conversation. We quickly moved on, yet her question stayed with me. I realized that I had been so wrapped up in the constant unfolding of right here, right now, that I hadn’t given any thought to naming my broader experience.
Finding more words took time. And then slowly, a string of descriptors began to emerge: wonderful… deeply moving… celebratory… reflective… humbling… quiet… rich… confronting… disturbing… grieving… questioning… heart-opening… contemplative.
When I landed on “contemplative,” I knew that was the overarching theme. My summer had been contemplative. When I was in Costa Rica in May, I had, in fact, set the intention for more time for reflection and contemplation, yet I wasn’t fully prepared for such a deep dive so quickly. Nevertheless, that’s what happened. I continue learning how to navigate this new-found contemplative terrain. And once again, I’m amazed at how many times through the course of my life I have felt like a novice in a new field of awareness.
During this two-and-a-half-year COVID era, I’ve learned a lot about living into the liminal time-spaces of life—those undefined and often unrecognizable time-spaces when you have left where you were before, yet you don’t know what comes next. The more fully I am able to live in the moment-to-moment flow, the more I sense life itself as a liminal experience. Every moment is transitional, yet at the same time, every moment is complete for what it is.
Living From All of Your Senses
In recent weeks, two quotes from spiritual writers and teachers of different traditions have brought deeper insights into my unfolding experience. The first comes from Frederick Buechner, an American theologian and Presbyterian minister who died on August 15th at the age of 96. He wrote:
Listen to your life…
touch, taste, smell your way
to the holy and hidden heart of it
because in the last analysis
all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.
The more I experience the liminal nature of life itself, the more my intellect steps aside to allow my belly and heart intelligences to guide me forward. That is not to say that my intellect is not engaged; it serves as an incredibly strong organizer and strategizer for what my heart and belly sense about what is happening and what the moment is asking of me. Intellect becomes servant to heart and belly rather than master.
This is what Buechner means by using all our senses to touch the holy and hidden heart of life. Richard Rohr says it another way: “Deep knowing and presence do not happen with our thinking minds. To truly know something, our whole being must be open, awake, and present.”
Then the second part of Buechner’s quote takes us straight to the power of living right here, right now in the moment-to-moment unfolding:
…in the last analysis
all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.
If we are not fully present in each unfolding moment with all our inner and outer senses engaged, we are much less likely to recognize “grace” when it appears.
The second quote comes from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön:
If your everyday practice is
to open to all your emotions,
to all the people you meet,
to all the situations you encounter,
without closing down,
trusting that you can do that—
then that will take you
as far as you can go.
And then you’ll understand
all the teachings
that anyone has ever taught.
Opening to everything that a particular moment or situation brings is often easier said than done, especially when the moment is filled with challenge and uncertainty. By nature, our protective ego does its best to avoid uncomfortable emotions, challenging people, and confronting situations. Yet that avoidance keeps us from being fully present in the right here, right now. We miss out on the moment-to-moment unfolding of life.
Following the Invitations of Life
This summer brought several unexpected invitations to leadership. Although I was hesitant to accept, I also knew that they would bring opportunities for learning outside of my comfort zone. Both the learning and the discomfort have already begun. Yet I also sense how I can make a difference in each of these new roles. Deep inside, I know that saying Yes to these invitations was the right decision. And I seem to find grace everywhere I turn.
Could it be that grace appears when we are willing to be fully present with what is happening, moment to moment? Could it be that the very act of opening ourselves—opening to our vulnerabilities and hesitations as well as to our strengths—invites grace to walk with us and even carry us when we don’t know how to go on?
Pema Chödrön calls it being open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that.
I might call it knowing who you are, why you’re here, and what is yours to bring to the world. And then, walking in the world with eyes and heart wide open, living your calling and sharing your gifts through whatever comes on your path.
It’s a tall order. Yet you just might fall deeper into grace.