I’ve been considering the real meaning of two words which are antonyms of each other: Presence and Absence. I have a strange affinity for opposites. I know its said that opposites attract, maybe that’s a part of why I’m drawn to such things. Its the juxtaposition of one against the other that captures and holds my interest.
The word Presence is defined as: the state of being somewhere. When you get an invitation that reads “Your presence is requested,” you are being asked to show up. Your style of being there — your demeanor or bearing — is also your presence.
The word Absence is defined as: the state of being away from a place or person. A state or condition in which something expected, wanted, or looked for is not present or does not exist : a state or condition in which something is absent.
So for me, the juxtaposition is the state of being somewhere, or the state of being away from a place or person. How odd that falls on my brain. The truth is, we are always in one state or the other, wouldn’t you say? You are either present or absent. Can you be both, or neither? Let’s see, it might be possible to be both. You could be physically present, but spiritually/mentally you might be absent. That could be a bit of a conundrum, present and absent all at the same time. I haven’t yet figured out how one could be neither present nor absent, that’s a tough one.
So how are we present? We are physically present at all times somewhere, or to someone. Are we always spiritually/mentally present? I’m thinking oftentimes we’re not. I’ve drifted away many times in many situations. When I’ve been attending classes throughout my educational journey I’ve had a number of occasions where I was daydreaming, or my mind was on other stuff not related to what the teacher was teaching. My body was certainly there, I could be counted as present, and yet I really wasn’t. I saw a hand-written sign in a little cafe recently that announced, “We don’t have Wi-fi, pretend its 1995 and talk to each other.” How very telling is that? We have become a society of people who are present physically, but our minds are engaged otherwise. My friend Moussa has been here with me going on 2 months. I’ve enjoyed every moment of the time he’s been here, and yet he even asked me once “where were you?” We had been talking and I drifted off somewhere in my mind, and he said I had this faraway look in my eyes. He knew I wasn’t totally present.
Do we strive to be present to each other in every sense of the word? Do we strive to be present with God when we are engaging the Divine in worship? Or do we multi-task with others and with God? We give each a piece of us, but not our whole selves. We are encouraged to engage in holy worship, where we are present before and with the Holy. Have we truly worshiped, if we have allowed other things or thoughts to remove a part of our presence? The very first commandment God gave to Moses was “You shall have no other gods before me.” I believe this may be some of what God was alluding to in this commandment. Anything that diverts our attention, our presence away from God, or attempts to put God second, is an idol. That which pries our attention from God, has usurped the position only God should hold.
In really considering the word Absence, I gave it some deep thought. It seems to be a negative word, with negative connotations. Absence is the opposite of presence. Absence means the space we should occupy is void. There is of course the time-worn, oft repeated phrase we’ve all heard, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” We are being reminded of how when someone is absent from us, we long to see them and be with them all the more. Even then, the absence is still negative because it reminds us the person we care for is not with us.
In talking about living by faith, the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:6-7 says, “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight.” Paul seems to be reminding us we do have the ability to be present and absent. When we are physically here on earth, in our bodies, we are spiritually separated from God. We do however, have the vehicle of prayer and worship which can connect us to God’s presence. How truly sad and lonesome it would be to experience the absence of God’s presence.
In 2023 I’m hopeful I will be more present with God than I have ever been. God is always present to me and you. All we have to do is open ourselves up to God, God is always listening, always attentive, always ready to be with us. If we make our presence with God a priority in our lives, we will soon discover a lessening of the absence that can seek to overwhelm us. We will feel God’s presence more and more, when we are fully present to God.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,