Presence versus Presents

Presence versus Presents
Advent 25

The ratio would be written as 23:2. That means that there are one hundred and fifteen of one thing and ten of another or 115 to 10. Based upon just that knowledge, the average person would conclude that whatever exists twenty-three times for every two times of the other must be more important, right?

Recently the Jewish faith just celebrated Hanukkah. Christians will begin the celebration of Christmas today/tonight. For some it will be a one day event and for others, it will last twelve days, ending in the Feast of Epiphany. And so, this is the season for giving…and receiving. The words presents appears in the Christian holy book, the Bible, ten times. The word presence appears one hundred and fifteen with other references for present (over one hundred), presenting, presently, and presented.

The major discussion point for this blog or online magazine of sorts is how we live and how faith is incorporated into that living. Regardless of what your faith or belief system or spirituality is, it plays a major role in what you do, how you live, your manner of speech, etc. We cannot divorce ourselves from our beliefs and they are evident in everything we do. They are present in our lives, in our living, in our being. But are we aware of them? Do we acknowledge the presence of our faith in our presents to one another? Are the presents more important than the presence? If they are, why?

Several days ago best-selling author Elizabeth Berg, a St Paul, Minnesota native, posted an essay to her FaceBook page written by her ninety-four year old mother which has since been reprinted in various websites across the country. Berg’s mother had always dreamed of being a writer and her talent is very evident in her essay. The entire essay, entitled “From the Heart” by Marion Jeanne Loney Hoff, can be found at twincities.com but I want to include a small portion here: “The Grinch did not steal Christmas. I did — you did — merchants in basic (perhaps not entirely at fault) are the vacation thieves. Halloween goblins are still in evidence when the mad rush begins in the Christmas trees and decorations and Christmas cards. Christmas cards, which I loved to send and acquire, are getting sent through FaceBook, e mail, texting or punched out on a personal computer. Christmas dinner appears to be a great deal the exact same. Although for a bit of money you can have it all cooked for you — and in some places for a bit additional money delivered proper to your table. You arrived at your location of worship early so you could sit in your preferred pew. Now in lots of places there are empty pews. “

Throughout the ages, mankind has asked “Who am I? Why am I here?” Many Roman Catholics believe as Pope John Paul did in saying that the answer to those questions is the gift of yourself to your faith and your spouse. Kevin Aldrich wrote: “To fully find himself means to discover the ultimate truth, to find that truth to be good… and to be of maximal important and value to others.” Earlier this month, however, Pope Francis warned couples against substituting pet ownership for being parents. Abraham Lincoln once remarked: ““I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.” It would appear that we need to be very focused on what we do in order to enjoy who we are. On the other hand, can that be the very thing that is keeping us from being ourselves and achieving our potential?

In her book “The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, Catherynne M. Valente penned: “Do not ruin today with mourning tomorrow.” All too often we are so busy think about the past or worrying about the future that we forget to live in the present. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote of the importance of being present in the moment. “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” Amit Ray echoed this: “IF you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

The best gift we can give another, the best present we have to offer, is to be present. Our presence in a loving and kind presentation is what we all spend our lifetimes searching for and hoping to find. The toys, clothes, and books given and received are nice but the real gift is the gift of self.

We all have value. Gender, socio-economic status, religion aside, we all have value and we all have much to offer the world in which we live. From the seemingly lowest position to the highest, each rung of the ladder serves a purpose. Where would the top rung be without the lower ones? Nowhere. We all have things to improve but no one else can do that for us. We need to acknowledge the importance of our presence and be present.

During the time of celebrating, the hustle and bustle of holiday schedules, the anxiety that what you are doing just will not be good enough, stop and simply be present, please. Craig D. Lounsbrough wrote: “The past is irreparably land-locked, and the future has yet to land. Here we are, living out our lives on the precariously thin line which separates the two.” Take time to enjoy the moment you are living. Many of us often do not. Jennifer DeLucy explains it this way: “It occurred to me to look up and around at the stars in the clear sky, at the trees in the dark, at the half moon. I was missing them because I was caught in my head. I wasn’t living right now. I was thinking to the future, to the past. I wasn’t present. This is one of my greatest weaknesses, and one I have a greater realization of, only because I allowed some of my past to die so that my present could rush in to fill it.”

Perhaps you do not celebrate anything at this time of year. For you there is no miraculous oil burning eight days as in the Hanukkah story, no bring home of the Yule tree as the Druids did, no festivities surrounding the Winter Solstice, no child messiah born by immaculate conception and celebrated at Christmas. I do hope you will respect those who do celebrate and find it in your heart to give thanks for your life and yourself as well as your neighbors. I also hope you will celebrate this moment in time. This is our final day of Advent, our final day of learning about other religions so that we can prepare ourselves for living and respecting all. As Marion Hoff concluded in her Christmas essay I mentioned earlier: “Believe again of all the cultures in this wide world. They as well have their customs, their special holidays and traditions. May possibly they all be kept with the joy, peace and respect they deserve.” Remember, the best way to be present is also the best present we can give – the present of presence, of peace and respect. That is found only within each of us. We are life’s present and only we can be the best possible.

Sally Lunn Bread
This is one of my favorite and easiest bread recipes. During holiday time, I double the recipe and then divide the dough into thirds or fourths. We add food color and incorporate it well into the dough. Then the different colors are braided together so that the loaves look something like challah bread. I also was known to do this when kids were arguing. Working the dough not only occupies their hands, the process gives them time to discuss and work out their differences. After all, life is a process, a recipe which calls for combine experiences and incorporating into a successful living of the moment.
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup milk
3 tsp baking powder
½ cup shortening
½ tsp salt
¼ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine egg and milk and stir well. Cream shortening and sugar together. Alternating, add the flour mixture and the liquid mixture until all is incorporated. Place in a greased loaf pan or muffin tin and bake for thirty minutes in a 375-degree Fahrenheit oven. The basic recipe makes one loaf or twelve muffins but, as mention, I always make double….or triple!

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