I was drawn to the subject of presence by a long-forgotten little book on Presence by Bishop Brent which I have read again and again. Much as I have gained from this book, I have in recent years realized how much difference Martin Buber has made in our thinking, for his vivid sense of meeting each other and of living dialogue has carried the insights of Brent much further. Then, knowing Albert Schweitzer, with his gift of being acutely present where he was, also helped to sharpen this dimension for me.
But all of these sources pale before the reading and rereading of the New Testament stories of Jesus where I have had burned into my mind what a man was like who was always present where he was. The greatest flashes of disclosure which we get from the Gospels seem to come to us out of the utterly fresh and unpredictable situations that rose in the course of his wandering almost as a vagrant across the land of Palestine. A woman is taken in adultery; he meets a woman at a well; a Roman centurion asks help for his servant; Martha complains in the course of preparing the meal at Bethany. The immortal words that came out of these ordinary situations of life showed a man utterly present where he was and speaking authentically to the occasion, Nothing for me reveals more conclusively God’s universal man than this gift of presence so powerfully disclosed. And those who have been inwardly drawn into his company and have taken his way down through the centuries have seemed to be marked by something of the same quality.
About the Author
An arrangement by which Haverford College, during the decade of the 1950s, let him offer one semester out of every four for some journey for the Service Committee was really only a formalizing of what he had long been doing, except that under this dispensation his wife Dorothy accompanied him, adding her sympathetic insights and service to his own. Most recently among his other interests he has become deeply involved in the Institute on Contemporary Spirituality made up of ten Roman Catholic and ten non-catholic scholars who have met for two extended periods in 1965 and 1966 – first at St. John’s Benedictine Abbey and this year at Pendle Hill – for exchanges of their respective treasures of spiritual practice. Readers will note the ecumenical touch in the present pamphlet, and beneath it the inevitable flow and counter flow of contemplation and involvement in which Douglas Steere finds the clue to what the world is seeking.