Conscious presence

Here you see one of the highlights of yesterday's travels with my camera: I was just at the end, heading home; had just rounded the corner and headed down the hill onto the sandspit when I caught sight of this mother otter and her baby scuttling across the tide flats.

My kids and I laugh together, saying I was an otter in some previous life: I just adore their little faces, their playfulness, their love of both the surface and the depths...

But the truth is -- as I'm reading in both Richard Rohr and Mary Oliver this morning -- that we are largely formed, not by some mystical previous lives, but by significant experiences in our own lives, particularly our childhoods: where we grew up, what our parents looked like and how they treated us, what the prevailing norms were in our primary communities...

And reading that, I thought -- what a debt I owe to David Redding.  I spent my formative years at the Glendale Presbyterian Church in Glendale, Ohio, and David was our pastor: a handsome man, as I remember, and a gifted speaker, but also a writer.  Two of his books -- If I Could Pray Again (poetic prayers) and The Parables He Told (stories of the parables, retold) -- were like bibles for me as a child, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that my decision, at the age of 8, to become a writer when I grew up, was at least partially based on my contact with him.

He moved on, of course, and wrote many other books; I'm sure he influenced the faith of many other individuals and encouraged many other budding writers.  But what matters here, in this moment, is how he touched my life -- and how we touch the lives of people around us.  We can't know what moments will prove most significant in the long run: perhaps for this young otter the experience of coming up over the river bank to be confronted with a photographer and a camera will give him a lifelong suspicion of purple flowers; who knows!

The fact is, even if we don't pay attention in the moment, our presence can affect those around us.  So how much better if we can be consciously present, consciously compassionate, consciously and beautifully the selves God created us to be...


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