The Gift of Presence

The other day I was in the car with my husband and I pointed out what I thought was a new sign on the side of the road. He let out a little laugh and gently let me know that the sign had been there for a very long time. I hadn’t noticed, but I’ve been practicing slowing down, taking deep breaths – especially when I feel myself holding my breath, and being present to the moment. This year, four words have caught my attention. Every year during the Advent and Christmas season we sing songs about it. We hear it over and over in the story of Jesus’ birth. The phrase “Emmanuel, God with us” is probably one of the most repeated phrases this time of year. But, what might happen if we slow down and acknowledge the invitation that is given to us over and over?

Read it slowly. Emmanuel, God with us.

Read it four times, each time emphasizing the next word. Emmanuel, God with us.

Read it out loud slowly, pause between each word. God with us.

God with YOU. 

The ever-abiding presence of God is with you.

It can be difficult to think about God being with us all the time. But God has proven Divinity is present with humanity throughout scripture. In Genesis 17:1 God spoke to  Abraham and said, “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless.” Sometimes, as in the story of Moses and the Israelites, God goes before us, and sometimes it is with a pillar of clouds or fire. And of course, God is with us from the old testament Joshua 1:9,  “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” to the great commission in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the classic text “The Practice of the Presence of God” Brother Lawrence writes in a letter to his friend: “If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God’s constant presence, if for no other reason than because His presence is a delight to our souls and spirits.”

Living life with God is delight and rest for our soul – it is forming our soul.  As we become aware of God’s presence in simply being with the Divine, we can release any idea that what we do affects God’s presence in being with us. Nothing we do will change the name of Emmanuel. God is moving with you through each moment of the day. In her book “Liturgy of the Ordinary” Tish Harrison Warren says “God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”

And now, in this Advent season, we wait expectantly to celebrate the birth of Jesus. God’s kingdom, brought to earth. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus, the gift of God’s presence. In each moment of each day, God with you.

Are there set times you acknowledge God’s presence? What might it look like to pause at other times during the day to accept the gift of His presence?

Practicing a breath prayer may be helpful. On your inhale pray the words “Emmanuel, God” and on the exhale “with us” or “with me”.

How might your day look different if you were present to God with you throughout the day?

As you do a household chore, like taking out the trash or doing the dishes, open yourself up to the awareness that God is with you. Perhaps just be aware or maybe have a conversation as you would with a friend. Then reflect on the time you spent afterward. How was it to be with Jesus as you did the everyday task? Was it different than going busily about the day?

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