It is graduation season, filled with speeches about making one’s mark on the world. It’s a season where graduates and their families often dream big dreams of the future. It doesn’t take much to fuel the fires of hopes and dreams, for we live in a country that values big—big accomplishments, big cities, big bank accounts, big companies.
We want to be stimulated, excited, informed, experienced, knowledgeable and influential. We like full calendars, full stomachs, full closets and full control of our lives. We write wills so our full closets will continue to be fully controlled by us after we die.
How could we possibly be content with being ordinary, with having fewer items on our calendars or in our closets, with unconcern about what we have or how we are viewed by others? How could we stand ourselves if we were still, quiet and small? Who would we be if we weren’t “making a difference?”
Certainly there is much work to be done in the world, many people to help, many changes needed and fresh new eyes to see entrenched problems in new ways so that they may be solved. Yet we who claim to follow Christ sometimes forget to follow Christ. Instead we follow ego, we follow what the world says makes us valuable, and while we are busy doing good, we are at the same time starving our souls.
I believe that is why we in the West try to simultaneously pursue the values of our culture, which keep us always hungry for more possessions, experiences and influence while claiming to follow Christ. Sometimes churches are tempted to cater to our appetite for experiences. Worship that is big and stimulating and exciting competes with other things that vie for our attention. We want our worship to “do” something for us. We are not content with something ordinary.
Centering prayer is not flashy, big or exciting. Sitting still for twenty or thirty minutes, content with simply being in the presence of God, doesn’t sound very productive in a culture that values action and results. We reject the simple discipline of simply showing up to be with God, preferring instead to do something for God. Have you ever considered that God might just want our company for a little while each day?
The simple act of being present with God helps us to also be present with others and to be present to ourselves. It is so ordinary, so small, so unexciting, which is why being present is so necessary to our growth as followers of Jesus. It is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t heal every leper, did not raise every dead child, and did not convert every person to his way of thinking. But he was fully present to the people he was with. He felt the hemorrhaging woman touch his robe. He had time to hold children. He found a blind man amid a crowd of people cheering his presence.
Being present strikes back against the ego that says we are only worth what we accomplish in the world. Being present is countercultural in its ordinariness, in its rejection of big, full and stimulating roles and activities. Yet if we really do want to make a difference in the world, we first have to be different from the world ourselves, and still enough to know how to follow where Christ leads.