The practice of being present

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Mar 09, 2018

Do you have a spiritual practice? What is it?

Often people think of spiritual practice as something done by holy people sitting by themselves in a church or monastery, or at least somewhere away from the rest of the world. And sometimes that is the case.

But more often, spiritual practice is done by ordinary people -- that is to say, holy people who don't know they are holy -- and it can take many forms. Sometimes sitting alone in silence is just what you need. But spiritual practice can also be done in the presence of others going about their daily lives. Life itself, lived with awareness, can become spiritual practice. Gardening can be a spiritual practice. So can playing music, cooking, cabinet-making or offering companionship.

One of my spiritual practices is visiting people in the hospital as a spiritual care volunteer. I'm under the supervision of the Pen Bay Medical Center chaplain, and check in with her periodically about what I've been doing. Once a week, or as often as my schedule allows, I go to the hospital. I check in at the nurses' station to see if they are aware of anyone in the unit who might appreciate a visit. Then I go knock on their door, if it's ajar. If the door is shut or another visitor is in the room, I don't enter.

When I go into someone's room, I introduce myself as a spiritual care volunteer and ask if they'd like some company. If so, I sit down and let them begin the conversation where they want to. I'm comfortable with silence. Sometimes I'll say something about the weather or ask about their family, where they live, to see on what level they're comfortable talking. I'm not there with an agenda, but to listen.

I'm naturally shy, but somehow I've been drawn to this practice by my interest in people's stories and my sense that the hospital can be a boring, lonely place for patients. I suppose really it is the love of Spirit that has drawn me there, a quiet person who is willing to listen, to offer empathy and to pray. I only offer to pray with someone if I sense that they may be open to it, and it's OK with me if they say they don't want it. I think it can help people to feel that they have been heard and that they are held by a power greater than themselves.

Sometimes I hear a lot about what is going on with someone medically, sometimes the focus is on family or the person's memories from long ago. People may be tired, nostalgic, upbeat, anxious or sad. I usually do more listening than talking, and I don't try to solve anyone's problems. I am there to witness to the truth of whatever is going on for the one I am with, and to bring the presence of Spirit to them. That's not something I do -- I'm just there as a vehicle, as someone who is calm enough, empty enough, if you like, to mediate that presence.

I am overwhelmingly the receiver from these visits. The trust of those I visit in sharing their stories, in allowing me to be with them, and the sense of being a conduit for Spirit means more to me than just about anything else I do. These are the times I feel truly real, when I feel I have been part of something worthwhile. And yet, they are also times when "I" -- the person who is aware of herself walking and talking and relating to people -- disappear.

The paradox of this practice is that it often takes place in circumstances of sadness, pain, confusion and loss, and yet it results in connection, peace, a sense of greater wholeness, even joy. It is a great gift to take part in it.

Whatever your spiritual practice, I hope you find meaning and peace through it. And I hope you find a way to go deeper in it.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 09, 2018 14:13

God Bless you Sarah! Strong wishes from your friend in AZ. You touch the heart and soul of the sick and your prayers even touch me. I seems yesterday when we studied together, words of the bible and bible lore.

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