On Contemplative Presence: Notes from Phase II Resident Lay Community Conversation

What is contemplative presence?

How do you practice contemplative presence in your life?

We’ve been meeting every other Sunday since January. In our convening for Phase II* of the Resident Lay Community conversations, lead by Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie (and the Holy Spirit), there is a richness — a provocative nature to the questions posed, the stories shared. On any given Sunday, as our room of 8-12 lay women and men meanders into the Sisters’ formal invitation to unpack their Essentials of Community Living, there is an a informal integration at work of these Salesian principles of monastic living into our own lives.

The following are notes from a recent meeting for Phase II of the Resident Lay Community Conversations. Perhaps they will speak to you?

CONTEMPLATIVE PRESENCE and SALESIAN STABILITY

-compiled by Brenda Lisenby, Monastic Immersion Experience resident

The meeting began with an introduction of the essential “contemplative presence” and Salesian stability by Sr. Mary Margaret:

“Be where you are, and be there well.”

– an adaptation of St. Francis de Sales “Be Who you are and be that well.”

Contemplative presence is the stability of the present moment…to be at home, to be at rest, to give yourself wholeheartedly, to enter into relationship believing God is there, here, today, at this moment, to enter into our alive Center.

Question: How do you practice or realize stability/contemplative presence in your life?

Responses:

  • Trying to be very aware of God’s presence throughout the day—when I do this, I have a sense of stability, a continual little nod to that Presence
  • Practicing contemplative presence with bread baking, a contemplative activity
  • Have  a sense of stability by having a change in bread making method—changed from machine to hand’s on, and I feel more alive, feel more ownership, feel more stable
  • Contemplative presence is the awareness of the present moment, whatever the activity (chopping carrots, ironing, etc.)
  • For me it is an image: the process of centering the clay; nothing happens until it is centered; in the same way, nothing happens until I am centered, then can be in the moment with others
  • Being, not doing—to be with people, to be part of community
  • Contemplative presence is the slow work of God; an image that comes to mind is gardening—slow work; presence is also loving the place where you are, a place to give and receive love
  • Contemplative presence is a spaciousness; it is the economy of grace (vs the economy of meritocracy)
  • Contemplative presence is to receive all that comes in the moment as coming from the hand of God…from the beginning of time, God has held this moment for us and so we receive it as a grace gift and TREASURE it
  • To live in the world as a contemplative is to be present, to have a receiving stance of all things, all things received through the senses (smelling, seeing, touching, hearing)…the 20 minutes of centering prayer each morning allows me to develop the muscles to be in this open heart space, to be present…this is contemplative presence, and it allows us to live into transformation of self and world
  • “touching the now”, being open to what is happening immediately
  • “being at home”, making where I am home for me and others
  • There is a sense of “rightness” when I am present in a contemplative way
  • Singing…being fully present to the moment—the words, my voice, the music, is a time when I am fully present, and open to inner transformation by the Spirit
  • Bro Lawrence, “Practicing the presence”, a way of being present in the world through all the ordinary daily activities (washing dishes, cooking, etc.)—being present to the moment, which puts one in the presence of God, and is a stance of continual prayer
  • Contemplative presence is being open to receiving the moment, the gift of presence given by others
  • Contemplative presence is also related to identity as well, because we bring our “other places” with us to where we are—other “places” of gender, age, race, culture, etc.
  • A reminder that “all is done through love, nothing through force.”
  • A comment: Phase II has been an experience of contemplative presence, an organic unfolding.

 

*A brief articulation of the phases:

  • Phase I: a time of listening to constituents response to the Sister’s proposal
  • Phase II: a time of exploring and/or addressing practicalities through the essentials
  • Phase III: a time when individuals who feel called and are free to respond to the call move forward in discernment and commitment.

Read more about the Resident Visitation Lay Community.

 

 

“Woman, why are you crying?” Easter Season Contemplations

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

Woman, why are you crying? - John 20:15

"Woman, why are you crying?" - John 20:15

I was sitting on the steps of my almost-three-year-old’s daycare provider’s house. I thought I had planned enough time for this transition in our day. I had risen early for my once-a-month- massage appointment. I had left the house early and snuck back in, all peace and relaxation and joy oozing through my muscles, in order to collect my drowsy preschooler from her dad’s arms and drop her at the daycare before my late-morning meeting. Forty five minutes surely had to be enough time to travel less than a mile and then back — right?

The two-year-ten-month-old child, however, was not having it. This Monday she wanted nothing but mommy or daddy. The supposed ten-minute-max drop off went terribly wrong. There were tears and screams and pleas for home — for her blanket, for her father, for me! — coupled with clinging. After all negotiations and requests and attempts at soothing were offered, I headed back out the door with said child still attached to me. Plan B to return her to her resting father was in line.

I was anxious. I was now late. My clock read fifteen minutes passed my meeting time. How had all those extra minutes ticked away? Tears and tantrums (of both children and their parents) are truly the pressure cooker of a time-suck.

Can you imagine the thoughts racing through my mind? Can you hear your own in such a chaotic, late-running-Monday-morning?

I hadn’t planned well. I was clearly a bad mother. I was clearly a poor professional. I couldn’t even make a meeting on time. If I had only thought or prepared a little bit better, then I wouldn’t be in this jam.

I wanted to reach out to the person waiting for me, communicate my dilemma or tardiness, but I didn’t have her phone number. And there was the sniffling kid on my arm – and her bag over my other shoulder – that kept me feeling unable to properly, calmly reach out  and communicate my whereabouts.  At that minute, my cell phone rang. It was the woman waiting for me. Taking a deep breathe, I tried to relay that I was delayed, but would be there, if she could wait. (We had been trying to schedule this meeting for six plus weeks.) I exhaled, and she responded:

“Do not worry. I get it. Take your time. I’ll be here.” It was her compassion, her generosity, her own knowing as a mother, that inspired my tears. I sat down on the steps, next to my hand-holding daughter, and started weeping.

“Mommy, why are you crying?”

***

I told this story recently on Salesian Monday Night as part of Sr. Mary Margaret and my co-presenation on Contemplative Presence. “How do we live in the present moment? How do we encounter the resurrected Christ in our midst every day? How do we find him in ourselves?” As one of the seven essentials of Monastic life for the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis, contemplative presence requires a gentle and loving practice of tuning into the fullness of each moment. In sharing my own story, I offered the question, “How do we live a contemplative presence when we are anxious, haven’t seemingly planned well, or aren’t in a perfect state of peace?” — Or, as Sr. Mary Margaret re-framed it in our post-presentation reflection,  “a little pissed off?”

“Your daughter’s question,” reflected Sr. Mary Margaret, is not unlike Christ’s question to Mary Magdalene outside his tomb: “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:15)

***

I offer you these thoughts for your own Easter season contemplations. Where are you stuck? Why are you sobbing – in any literal or figurative way? What do your eyes or mind need to turn to in order to see the resurrected Christ in our midst? What joy is hidden behind that veil of tears?

He is Risen! He is you!
EASTER BLESSINGS!

On Contemplative Presence: A Wendell Berry Poem

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation CompanionMass at Monastery

Contemplative Presence is a vivacious stability founded in the “movement without motion,” named in the Book of Wisdom and described by St. Francis de Sales as devotion. This presence carries our charism, and therefore, conversion which we know as humility, seeking truth, before God and great gentleness, non-violence, in relation to all of creation. Communing rather than significant separation is our wellspring overflowing as “the bond of love,” the signature of our charism.”
— From the Seven Essentials of the Visitation Monastic Presence in North Minneapolis

What does it mean to be a contemplative? What informs or characterizes your efforts to “be present” — or to “live in the moment?” In my reflections on – and best attempts to follow– a life grounded in contemplative presence, I have jokingly said, “It takes a lot of planning to live in the present moment!”

As Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie and I prepare to present on this topic at tonight’s Salesian Monday session, I offer you the following Wendell Barry poem to inspire your own reflections, prayers and life rooted in Contemplative Presence.

Wendell Berry booksRemembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own white frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir