Friday, June 16, 2017

Witness, Presence, Unconditional Love

     Perhaps about 15 years ago, after the birth of our grandson, our second grandchild, I had the experience of feeling absolutely overwhelmed with the love I felt for the two beautiful young souls who were being entrusted to their parents and to us for as long as we would have time to be in their lives.  I hardly knew what to do with the feelings I had;  what to do with the awareness of what an incredible privilege and responsibility came with being a conscious grandparent.  So - I prayed for some guiding wisdom for how to go about the awesome task of loving these two precious beings and for how to be a strong and positive influence in their lives.   In the deep silence of prayer, I heard “You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.”  15 years later, I am still grappling with what these words mean, but I took this  wisdom as my marching orders for grand-parenting.  It turns out that they were marching orders for my life as well as they have continued to echo in my spirit over the years that I have been a grandmother.   You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.

        The words put me in mind of attributes of the Source of All Life, partially revealed in the story of Moses in his encounter with the Holy One of Being at the bush that burned but was not consumed (Exodus 3:1-15): 
 “I have observed the misery of my people...I have heard their cry . . . I know their suffering . . . I have come down to deliver them from slavery . . .  .I will bring them to a good land . . . "
     The Divine Voice further instructs Moses to tell the people that "...the God of your ancestors,the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you." 
       The beautiful story of the beginnings of humankind found in the Book of Genesis affirms that humankind is created in "the image and likeness" of the Creator.  While I am not a Biblical literalist, I take this to point to the notion that we all carry the attributes of the Holy One to some degree - we have the capacity for creativity, for curiosity, for profoundly loving relationships.  We also have the capacity to observe, and hear and know - - the capacity to Witness the lives of others.  We have the capacity to "come down" - to be a Presence in solidarity with those who suffer.  We have the capacity to BE the Unconditional Love alluded to in the affirmation that "I am the God of your ancestors" - the source of creative loving that has accompanied humankind through thick and thin since the beginning of creation.
These attributes lead us to a high calling in our life together as a community of human beings committed to living nonviolence in our personal lives and in the world beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones. The good news is that we are already familiar with these attributes.  Indeed, we practice them every day when we witness, we notice, we observe, we see.   We witness one another’s lives in the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and celebrations, the fears and concerns, the illnesses and the healing that we go through together in community.  We witness the effects of stress and joy, suffering and well-being, wholeness and brokenness on each other - and we learn empathy and compassion. This attribute of witnessing is what makes the center hold in our personal spheres of influence.  It is also what makes us more effective as we take our caring into the world.

When we are present to one another, we become the holy attribute of Presence. Some times we are called upon to take action - to make a phone call in behalf of an important cause, to check in with each other when the news is stressful, or when an action is in need of support,  to attend to one another when one of us is suffering.  Sometimes we are called upon to  be present to one another in profound grief when there are simply no words to be said.  We each have the capacity to be a Presence in each other’s lives - whether through actual physical hands on  help or through prayer, through words of encouragement and comfort.  Being a Presence means saying “Hineini” - - here I am - - my spirit and my energy are available to you - - I am part of your life.  Being a Presence means being a little bit of God available to the life of another person. 
     And then there is the attribute of Unconditional Love. We know from the long saga of God’s journey with Israel that God does not give up when the going gets tough - - and the texts are full of reasons why God could have just thrown up the proverbial divine hands and walked away in frustration and disgust.  But that did not happen.  The love of the Holy One for all of creation does not depend upon how faithful humans are,  or how good or cooperative or thoughtful or sensitive or caring or patient with each other we happen to be.  Unconditional Love is just that - it unaffected by the conditions of our lives.  Being created in the Divine Image, we have the capacity to love one another through thick and thin - - even when we aren’t sure we like each other very much - even when we disagree about how things ought to be done, even when we hurt one another’s feelings - even when things go terribly wrong.  Being Unconditional Love means being in our holy center where we do not get shaken by the dramas and ups and downs of our daily interactions, by political differences, by our knee-jerk reactions to the most recent inflammation in the news - it means being Love even when we don’t feel particularly loving.
     To embrace the command, if you will, to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love, is, perhaps, a partial answer to the questions "How do we access soul force?"and "Where do we find the strength to live nonviolently in our world?"  Accessing "soul force" and strength for living nonviolently in the world begins with the practice of living out the Holy Attributes in community: practicing witnessing the lives of those around us; practicing being a Presence in the midst of joy and celebration and suffering and sorrow; practicing being Unconditional love that does not waver when the going gets tough.  With practice, we may yet become the influence that will transform the world.

Vicky Hanjian


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