Wednesday, March 22, 2006

People of the Presence

Last June one of my blog posts was about an awareness of God's presence. I asked people to share insights and experiences. A few left blog comments, others wrote me emails. Some of the stories were amazing. One of the most memorable for me was an email from a cyber buddy who told me about the time she was experiencing serious trauma as a child and was curled up in her bed feeling completely alone and lost. A silent and unseen presence came to her and wrapped her in a warm embrace, complete with soft, rather plump arms and a distinctly feminine chest. She was alone--but not alone. And she was comforted by a tender Mother God.

Last year I went through a several week period of time when I was aware of God's presence in a way that is impossible to describe but, at least to me, was very real.

I've pondered this ever since, trying to grasp just what the presence of God is, how it is revealed, why some times people are more aware of it, and so on. I also had a conversation recently with a parishioner and good friend who was wrestling with the whole charismatic idea of "experiencing" God--and just when is that real and helpful and valuable, and when does it cross the line into manipulation and emotionalism and worse.

I believer we are never to seek experiences. That leads to many kinds of trouble. We are to seek God. Sometimes a somewhat emotional experience may result, and sometimes not. To focus on the experience is to cheapen the Almighty, I think. But I have no problem with enjoying the sense of nearness or joy or freedom that sometimes comes to me as I seek a deeper awareness of God's nearness.

Sometimes at our church we use soft music, candlelight, kneeling, silence--or exuberant music, vocal prayer, and standing with arms raised in joy or surrender. Others have organ music, stained glass, beautiful anthems sung by a choir, and focused liturgy. It's all good, as far as I'm concerned, if it helps us step out of the mundane, the casual, the usual, and focus our attention on the Divine.

Can it be manipulation? Yes. But it needen't be. Personally, I sometimes need a little help quieting my mind (or releasing joy and praise).

All that to say--whew--that when a brochure came in the mall titled "People of the Presence Confernece" I took note. The cover is eye-catching, a blue background with a dove feather floating down. The featured confrence speaker is J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine. He also is one of my personal heroes, because he took a stand (and took a lot of heat) when he published Ten Lies the Church Tells Women. He has recently started something called The Mordecai Project that aims to assist women who want to be in Christian ministry. I'd post a link, but it seems something is amiss with the website.

The workshop titles are intriging as well. Here's one title: Where are the Women of Fire? and another, Prophetic or Pathetic? There's one about the new interdenominatiol practice of "healing rooms." I've been hearing about this and want to learn more. When a workshop is not in session there will be continuous worship music and prayer (live music during the day, taped at night).

I'm going. I have a mix of anticipation and a little concern. I don't like hype or manipulation, and I am all to0 aware that there is all too much of this in charismatic circles. But something seems compelling about the timing of this.

I'll report when I get back. Next week sometime.

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