First, a thought or two. I suspect that in centuries past when practically everyone believed that only a priest had the power to "turn" ordinary bread into the real body of Christ through specific words and actions, they genuinely experienced real presence. Contemporary work on human consciousness reveals, quite possibly, that only through the use of such a ritual and belief system would people of that day and age have been able to experience God in that setting. However, since then, and especially within the past half century, as we have grown in consciousness , we see beyond what others once cherished. We see the "magical" implications that emerge when insisting that only those with a wand (hint-hint) may successfully transform bread into Christ's body. We also know, all to well, the pain and brokenness heaped upon communities when anyone is excluded. How can God be fully present, we cry out, when even one "sheep" is missing? Doesn't Jesus tell us where God is at that moment - out searching for the one, leaving the 99 remaining? And so, motivated by these changes in awareness, we must seek new ways of living our sacramental reality - that not only is God always present, we can also enter into that presence whenever two or more are gathered. It seems to me that it is that search in which so many contemporary theologians, prophets and mystics, including we in ARCWP are engaging today. Given our varying gifts, passions and abilities, each of us is being led to our own discoveries. Because I have just stumbled upon a writer who best explains where I've been led, I will share a bit of her work with you.
In her book, God's Ecstasy, Beatrice Bruteau does a wonderful job of describing the gifts of contemplation, connecting them, in fact, to a trinitarian understanding of God. She first describes the "enstatic" reality of a person, the part of us that is beyond limit, definition or description. It is, in fact, the aspect of us that is made in God's image. To access that enstatic self, we must practice indwelling, going within silently and in stillness. When we do so, we learn that we are so much more than what we could ever expect, as well as gaining the ability to recognize and affirm the enstatic reality of everyone else, to communicate that they, too, in having been created in God's image, are beyond description and definition - limitless! If we are able to exist within that enstatic awareness, only then, Brutea u writes, does agape love become possible. (Whenever we describe/define another, we see him/her as object, thus preventing us from loving without self-benefit in mind.) She goes on to say that whenever agape love is shared, one other requirement is present: the necessity to allow that love to pour forth into the world. If it is locked within an exclusive exchange between two individuals, the love turns each into objects as definitions and descriptions arise. Oh my, my heart sang, as I've read this book.... Finally, I have a means of explaining why I have been drawn more and more to a contemplative stance these past ten years. This is what I'm seeking... this is also what I've begun to experience.... But what about real presence?
Last night, at Antioch, a friend of mine and I were invited to lead the labyrinth. Now, let me say that more than anything else the willingness and spiritual grounding of those present contributed most to our experience, but yet, as we spoke to them as we introduced the process, I couldn't help but notice a distinct change in attitude and countenance. First, we acknowledged the universal similarities of our hearts (our enstatic realities), that all of us long so deeply for union with God, but yet, distractions abound. And then as we settled into our places, we remembered that we are "nowhere but now here" so we were free to release the worries, concerns, frustrations of our daily lives. Finally, after doing the repetitive chant using "Be still and know that I am God" (ala Richard Rohr), we invited all to begin the labyrinth, the path of which was actually a simple one marked by numbered papers that led them around pews and up and down the center aisle of their church to the altar. (Of course, they retraced steps from that point.) Even as I sat meditating with my eyes closed, I could feel "real presence" as it grew and grew, finally to the point where the host minister rea lized as she walked that she didn't need to close the experience with a physical anointing of each as she had intended. Clearly, she later told me, she could see that each and every person was anointed as they walked, as they rested in God's presence, and even as they returned to their pews.
I share this with you not to announce "Aha! This is it... this is the way!" It is one way, yes, and maybe without my Catholic sacramental awareness being present, they would have reached such depth: clearly it is a loving and genuine community. But this I know: I was humbled and blessed to have been present to such a powerful experience of real presence. Yes! my heart sings. Yes!