Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

The Greatest Commandment

This week, we meditate on the theme of divine love and presence.

Love changes us and connects us.  Love is presence.  Love means being in this very moment, in God, and responding to the needs before us in the same moment.  Love as presence means that we turn off our internal automatic pilot and start paying attention to what is going on in our lives.

Jesus teaches this way of love by citing the Greatest Commandment, namely, to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves. We do not love abstractly, but in the concrete.  We cannot love someone we take for granted or someone we think we have all figured out, which is an obstacle to real love.  Love happens in the here and now or it doesn’t happen at all.  Of course, all too often, the present moment is the familiar reality that recedes into unconsciousness.

Openness and Nonresistance

Richard Rohr talks about presence as open and nonresistant.  He says, “Just try to keep your heart open, your mind without division or resistance, and your body not somewhere else.  Presence is the practical, daily task of all mature religion and all spiritual disciplines.”  So, presence is utterly practice-able.  We can practice presence in daily life because God is present in daily life.  The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God says to everyone, “I am with you.”  This is a basic message of the Bible.  God is with us, within us.  God is present.  To love is to enter into this divine presence.

Practicing the Presence of God

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection urges a simple practice called “the presence of God.”  He writes, “The holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God.  It is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine every moment, without rule or measure...we must stop for a moment, as often as possible, to adore God in the depths of our hearts, to savor him, even though in passing and stealthily.”  It is a practice of remaining in God’s Presence in this very moment.  It happens through interior silence.  He writes again, “Withdraw from what is external from time to time to adore God within...enjoy his divine presence in peace for a few moments.”  He advises us to foster the gentle, humble, loving, and silent awareness of God within.  It is tremendously simple.  Throughout the day, we return our minds to God in the here and now.

Still, practicing presence is challenging.  Brother Lawrence reminds us, “The mind must be kept fixed on God alone.”  We have to let go of all the things that preoccupy us.  Brother Lawrence often refers to our preoccupations or attachments simply by the label “creatures."  Hence, he writes how we have “to turn away from all creatures many times throughout the day to withdraw and adore [God] present within.”  There is no reason to worry, though, for Brother Lawrence also writes, “The habit is formed by the repetition of acts and by frequently bringing the mind back into God's presence.”  That means we will get distracted frequently!  No problem, Brother Lawrence seems to say.  We simply bring our minds back into God’s presence when we notice we’ve been distracted.

Practicing the presence of God takes us out of self-preoccupation to center us on God alone, who is love.  So, to be present is to be in God is to be in love.  This is how we can love as God loves, by being present in God in this very moment.  Then, in this silent presence to God within, we can be patient, kind, humble, and selfless.  We can love when we practice presence.

Consider Morphogenetic Fields

A scientific idea can help us appreciate love as presence: British biologist Rupert Sheldrake postulates a model of biological behavior called morphogenetic fields.  He thinks “that repetitive behavior creates informational fields that can influence similar behavior in an unrelated area." He calls these informational fields "morphogenetic" fields because they are, according to Ilia Delio, “formative fields (morphe, or "form") that carry information, not energy, and are available throughout time and space without any loss of intensity after they have been created…morphogenetic fields direct other members of the species toward the same form or behavior…these fields of habitual patterns link all people. The more people have a habit or pattern— whether of knowledge, perception, or behavior— the stronger it is in the field, and the more easily it replicates in a new person (or entity).”

Morphogenetic fields reveal that the more people are present, the more people will become present and therefore loving.  Ilia Delio elaborates, “The discovery of morphogenetic fields can be used to describe how human consciousness is shared. A newly forming system 'tunes into' a previous system by having within it a 'seed' that resonates with a similar seed in the earlier form. As more and more people learn or do something, it becomes easier for others to learn or do it.”  When each one of us can be present individually, more people will be able to become present.  If each of us can be present in God this very moment, we can powerfully influence the whole human species.  This is the power love as presence has.