This past Saturday I was taking a workshop led by Connie Goodbread. She had laid out the room with a bunch of chairs in a circle, and placed a toy on each chair. I went immediately to the chair with the stuffed lemur on it, and started playing. The lemur waived at everyone who entered the room, and at times wagged his tail at folk.
There was a variety of reactions. Some settled right into play with me. Some smiled, but refrained from interacting. Others were made uncomfortable. I discussed the experience later at dinner with others who were at different workshops at District Assembly, and first knocked it off to my being internally five scaring people. I was gently reprimanded and told that it wasn’t that I was being childish, but that I was present. I came into the room and I was emotionally vulnerable and ready to work.
One of the things I’ve noticed in both my faith life and my professional life is that people have a serious ambivalence towards presence. We want people to be with us, but not too with us. We want presence in our actors and our ministers, but not in our audience and our fellow worshippers. Presence is something for others, professionals, leaders. In situations of worship or in a darkened audience, I find that we want to think, but not too much, feel, but not too much, experience, but not too much. Those that do experience the theatre more fully often get berated as bad audience members. Those that come to worship fully present often get strange looks.
If we are to create sacred spaces, it requires participation from everyone in the room. I’m tired of passive church and theatre experiences. I want to be in the room. I want to play with stuffed animals, sing loudly, clap loudly, laugh loudly, cry loudly, and be fully present. I want to gasp when the sword is unsheathed and sing when the spirit moves me.
One of my spiritual practices is to exist in a space that is uncomfortable for me so that others may be comfortable. I understand that some people need quiet in order to be present. I respect that, but I don’t want to mistake quiet for polite or either for present.
In what ways do you find yourself present? What helps you listen or engage more fully?