There is really only one possible prayer: Give me to do everything I do in the day with a sense of the sacredness of life. Give me to be in your presence, God, even though I know it only as absence.May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
This is my shelter. A temporary booth on a platform, built as a makeshift treehouse in my mom’s backyard. I think I’m the only one to use it for such a purpose. I appreciate the space and proximity to mom’s garden, house and even my own home.
I live about two miles away from mom’s house. She moved here over twenty years ago, and her being close brings me comfort. For many years, we lived far apart. I left home at age eighteen to join the Air Force, lived in Texas and the Philippines, then met my husband and we moved around until we settled here in the St. Louis area twenty eight years ago.
We moved here for Les to find a new job after he left the Air Force. We lived with his parents for a few months, and then he found a job and eventually we moved into our current home. Being in close proximity with family is a gift, and I often feel deeply the absence of my son and his wife, and my two sisters and their families who live far away.
Sitting in the shelter outside reminded me of reading the above quote this past summer. It provoked me. It took me by surprise, and yet delighted me.
Can one be present and absent at the same time?
The first part of the prayer reads as fairly mundane, both practical and helpful. The prayer penned during a year of pursuing solitude (mixed in with some visits from family and friends) was written in the context of her doing the work of a poet.
She could have ended the prayer to be given an awareness of the sacred within her doing, but she adds the second sentence: “Give me to be in Your presence, God, even though I know it only as absence.” This is the sentence that gives me pause, and causes me to remain still and think about it. Its strange accuracy comforts me.
This is why I come to sit outside for a period of time. Not to pray with words, nor to read words, nor doodle or even listen, but to be in THE presence, even though I often experience THE absence.
In the Psalms, the poets often place the word “selah” at the end of a phrase. In the notes, selah can be translated “pause, and think calmly about that.” I invite you to selah with May Sarton’s prayer, written on November 11, 1972, I believe.
The date isn’t that important, yet the era intrigues me because the same weekend I read her book, I finished Maya Angelou’s Why the Caged Bird Sings and started Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. All three books were personal narratives and published in the mid-seventies. I chose them because they were nearby in a stack when I was packing: a serendipity.
Those types of similarities spark interest in me. I wonder if they knew each other. Did they ever spend time in each others’ presence? Did they read each others’ work sensing the sacredness of life, even though they mostly knew each other from a proximity of absence.
I experienced each one’s absence, as I read their books, but also very much sensed their presence through their narratives.
Again, I invite you to pause and dwell with the presence of absence.