Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Present of Presence

About a year ago I learned about Forrest Church. Forrest is an author, and Unitarian minister and a "New Yawker" like myself. He is also dying from incurable esophageal cancer. That was the door through which his story opened up to me. I heard him being interviewed on Fresh Air about a book he had written called "Love and Death". I read it and, pardon the pun, I loved it to death. For someone dying with cancer, Forrest is infused with a sense of gratitude for life that some might find counter-intuitive. The fact that his days are clearly numbered (let's face it, all of our days are numbered, but we just assume our number is pretty high) has pushed him not toward depression, but toward appreciation. It was impossible to read his book and not be moved toward more compassionate, intentional interaction with the world and those people in it who are our loved ones.

I hadn't thought about Forrest in a while. But yesterday I was researching organizations I could write to as I search for hosts in different cities and all of a sudden I remembered the service I went to this Spring at All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan where Forrest used to be senior pastor. I went to their website to get an update on Forrest's health and sure enough, there was a letter he wrote to the congregation in May, updating them on the ongoing chemo and the battle against the ever present tumors. In the letter he mentioned that he still planned to preach the Sunday after Memorial Day. A few clicks later, and a silent thanks for the marvels of the internet, I was reading that sermon. I am including a link to it here.

In the sermon he talks about a topic I have been very, very aware of lately. He discusses how essential living in the Present is. So essential, in fact, that to quibble over the recent past, such as how I ended the last sentence in a dangling participle, is to deny myself the pleasure of the only moment in which we can truly see, feel, touch, smell, love or laugh. He challenged me to give myself the Present of Presence. To Forrest I say, "I accept".

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