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By Sharon Lee Song

Emmanuel means God with us. God is with you always. Take a moment, and reflect on this. Do we know this truth? Do we know that God is present with us, moment by moment? How present are we to ourselves, to one another, and to God? Are we paying attention?

There is power in the ministry of presence. As a spiritual director, we often refer to the ministry of spiritual direction as a ministry of presence. I have seen how powerful presence is for me, for my directees, and most importantly, with God.

There is a book written by a man named Brother Lawrence called The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence was a lay-brother who served at a Carmelite monastery in Paris, France. In this book, he wrote of his awareness of the presence of God. He cultivated this awareness through the mundane tasks that he performed throughout the day, such as washing the dishes, etc. Brother Lawrence longed to maintain an ongoing conversation with God through this practice. What would it be like to offer yourself to God every moment, and awaken to His presence? This is an important — and I would even say urgent — invitation for all of us to receive, especially in our fragmented and disconnected world.

We are becoming increasingly disconnected from ourselves, from each other and from God. Ironically, in an age where social media and technology have the great power and potential to connect our world in ways like never before, it also has destructive capabilities to divide, isolate, and create environments of unhealthy comparison. At its worst, social media fosters environments that breed ranting and venting where healthy discussion and discourse become impossible, instead of cultivating and nurturing opportunities for learning, listening, bringing community together, creativity, and more.

We look all around us in public settings where people are glued to their phones; they don’t look up at one another, or talk to one another anymore. I was at a restaurant once where an entire family of four sat down together at a table and every single one of them was glued to their cell phones. I sat there and watched them and felt saddened. I bet that their intention was to go out, spend time together, and eat a meal as a family, but what really happened is that they just missed each other entirely.

All of us are looking and longing for deep connection to other human beings, to ourselves and to the living God. There is a plethora of research about how people feel more lonely and depressed now than ever before in this digital age. This is where the ministry of presence has and will have incredible impact for the Kingdom through the gospel through incarnational ministry — being present to one another.

In spiritual direction, directees have shared with me that they aren’t sure what to do when I tell them that the session is a safe and sacred space because they are not used to being able to say whatever they want. I encourage them that they can feel safe, come as they are, be themselves — their true selves. In incarnational ministry, connections are forged by being present to one another, emulating how Jesus came to live and serve among us.

Jesus speaks of the power of being present to one another in John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” There are countless encounters that Jesus had with people where they could just be themselves with Jesus; that’s why people were drawn to him. The ministry of presence with others is a reminder that God is present everywhere in our lives and in the lives of people around us. Take a moment to consider and meditate on this invitation of presence with God, yourself and others in John 15:4-17 (The Message):

4 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.

Sharon Lee Song lives and works in South Los Angeles for Servant Partners, an urban missions organization. Inspired by her own transformation through self-care and soul care, Sharon became a certified personal trainer, Holy Yoga instructor, and spiritual director. She’s committed to using what she’s learned from her training to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

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