MasPrac 07-10-108

Practicing the Presence of People

How we learn to love



Mike Mason

Waterbrook Press, 1999, 272 pp., ISBN 1-57856-265-1


Mason, a writer, is the author of The Mystery of Marriage and The Gospel According to Job.  Formerly a loner and nearly a monk, he almost miraculously discovered people.  His series of brief meditations reflect on how we learn to love people and what that means for our relationship with God.  Many insightful nuggets surface, some almost poetic.  His hope: "I want people to wake up to the wonder of simply being in one another's presence." (115)



"By treating people the same way I treat God, I began to relax with them and enjoy them.  Not only that, but the more I make my peace with people, the deeper grows by peace with God.  The more I pay attention to people and connect with them, the richer grows my prayer life.  The more I give myself to others, the more happy and fulfilled I feel." (4)  


"To see other people truly, one must look not from the outside but from the inside.  That is, one must enter into relationships."  "Love requires getting mixed up with people." (13)


"The way we feel about people is the way we feel about God, and the way we treat people is the way we treat God." (15)


"If I want an accurate answer to the question, 'How am I doing spiritually?' I need only turn my thoughts toward the one person in my life with whom I am having the most trouble.  This person represents the place in my heart where peace with God is lacking." "No one can be close to God without also being close to people." (16) 


"To practice the presence of people is to choose deliberately to focus on the new creature rather than the old, to see the light in people rather than the darkness."  (29)  "We must help one another to see and to walk in the light." (30)


"Believing people are good will not make them so, but it will issue a powerful invitation.  By having faith in people, we dramatically increase the odds that they will actually behave well and grow in virtue.  This is not naïve positive thinking, but a matter of practicality.  It's better to believe than not to.  Faith works.  In order to believe in people we must make a decision to know only the good in them.  If our eyes are open, we'll see the evil, too, but we must decide to know only the good." (32)


"The great question in life is not, 'What should I do?' or 'Why?' but rather, 'Who do I know?'  Job found this out." (33)


"Do you realize that what you see in others is only what is in yourself?  Think of other people as a mirror."  "How happy you are is directly related to how many people you can embrace with love."  "The mirror of flesh and blood is the test of true love for God." (35)


"Does God seem distant or absent?  It may be because you have chosen to distance yourself from His people."  (36)  "Relationships--even bad ones--speak loudly and clearly.  Listen to them.  They will tell you the truth about yourself, while on your own you will certainly miss it." (37)


"John…wrote, 'Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen…. Whoever loves God must also love his brother' (I john 4:20-21)." (37)


"Love, if allowed free rein, would overthrow the world system as we know it.  Nothing could stand in its way.  Everything would topple like a house of cards: stock markets, governments, the Mafia, shopping malls, banks, libraries, our jobs, and on and on.  Isn't this what we're all afraid of?  Aren't we terrified of our little world caving in around us?  But the destruction of the world by love is the goal of the gospel.' (40)


"Often what keeps us from loving is a sense of being swamped by our own problems.  But listen: The practice of the presence of people (and of God) is the answer to all our problems."  "Every problem, in other words, has a relational root.  The only real problem is alienation, and the only cure is love." (42)


"Since our fundamental need is for love, every personal problem is interpersonal." (44) 


"Make friends with your past.  Let the story of your life be a biography of joy and victory, not a trail of broken dreams.  Forgive the dream-crusher, and no one will ever crush your dreams again." (45)


"People I've judged often hold the greatest gifts for me.  What an incentive this becomes to surrender all judgments…." (46)


"The way to follow Christ is to peel off the crust and to pursue what we truly want.  What is this deepest of all desires?  It is nothing short of love.  To love is to want others as we ourselves long to be wanted." (50) 


"The world is suffering much…because of this terrible disease--not of leprosy, not of tuberculosis, not even of hunger--but of that feeling of wanting to be wanted, to be loved, to be somebody to somebody." (p. 53, quoting Mother Teresa)


"If we are serious about practicing the wisdom found in books, then we will learn to be faithful to a good book as to a good friend.  We will keep such a book in our lives rather than on the shelf.  The gate of learning is not the mind but the will.  When a book begins to speak to us, we know it is time to act.  Obviously this is the point of reading the Bible."  "Has it ever occurred to us that the same is true of other good books?" (60) 


"Why…a chapter on loving myself?  Because your self, redeemed in Christ, is what you love with.  The self is the tool with which you practice the presence of others.  If you are not good at being yourself, you won't be good at letting others be who they are." (69)


"The feelings you have toward yourself will inevitably be projected upon others.  If you do not love yourself, you will not love your neighbor.  If you are not real to yourself, no one else will be real to you either."  "It is a natural law.  You will not and cannot treat others any better than you treat yourself.  Why would you?"  "If I am plagued with guilt, be it ever so subtly, then I will be harsh and judgmental with others."  (70)


"How can we know if we love ourselves?  What is the sign?  It's simple: We'll have lives that are characterized by being warm and full inside, happy and thankful." (70)


"Love for self is not selfishness, because the way I see myself is like a pair of glasses through which I look at the world.  If my image of myself is poor, then my vision will be warped so that I cannot see beauty in others.  But if I see myself as God sees me, with lovingkindness, then I will see everyone else through these same glasses." (72)


[I hear this issue (loving yourself) pushed back and forth.  This is about the best writing I've seen on this side.  What is your take on it? dlm]


"If you feel that God doesn't speak to you, ask yourself: When do I ever lean and loaf at my ease to enjoy something beautiful for its own sake?" (82)


"The goal of Christian spirituality is not to feel good but to fight well.  The moment we focus on good feelings, those feelings being to slip away."  "Fullness of joy comes from aligning ourselves with others."  "To be lit and humming, we must feel connected." (88)


"The other side of joy is suffering.  To befriend ourselves we must embrace our lives wholly, including the suffering."  "Love eases pain and when one loves God, one suffers for Him with joy and with courage." (90, quoting Brother Lawrence)


"Whether we like it or not, we are going to share in the world's sufferings.  Will our share of pain embitter us because we are unwilling to accept it?  Or will we choose and even desire our sufferings, bearing them gladly because of the joy set before us?" (91)


"Not only that, but we must share the suffering of everyone.  Suffering is contagious, like a terrible disease.  It is no idle fear that if we get too close to others their suffering might rub off on us.  Because we are a part of one another, we cannot help but feel others' pain.  Bearing these burdens, we enter into fellowship; avoiding them, we are alienated."  "If we are to share people's joys we must also share their sorrows.  Shrinking from sorrow, we shrink from joy as well." (92)


"Good clean fun holds tremendous spiritual power.  Fresh, spontaneous, natural, renewing--fun restores us to our true selves."  "To have fun happen to you, be a happening person.  Are you a stick-in-the-mud or are you still happening?" (105)


"When we're afraid to be fools, we end up being afraid to be anything."  "Pride wants to look good, but humility has no fear of looking bad.  People will see our faults anyway: like Paul, we should glory in our weaknesses.  Then we'll be free to have fun."  "Be home to the child you still are at heart.  He or she is your ticket to having fun." (107)


"I want people to wake up to the wonder of simply being in one another's presence." (115)


"To enter the presence of people is to allow others to be more special, more noticeable or present than we are to ourselves." (116)


"When bringing some problem or question to the Lord, I find He seldom answers me directly.  Instead He just wants to be with me, to enjoy my company, and He hopes I too will enjoy Him.  In this mutual enjoyment, my problems and questions begin to dissolve.  They do not disappear, exactly, but their hold on my mind loosens."  (121)


"…God is always present; the problem is that we are not.  In our minds we tend to live more in the past and the future than in the present…." (124)


"If what people are saying does not interest you, become interested in what they are not saying.  Be the sort of person who, when some bore is talking your ear off, happens to notice the peculiar spot of light shining like a jewel in his hair."  "If you want to practice people's presence, start by giving your own.  Become present to others." (128-29)


"We will never see other people if the air is dense with our own words." (134)  "The first duty of love is to listen…" (135)  "One good rule of listening is that if you don't have anything to say, don't say anything."  "The hardest job any of us have is to still the flapping tongue in our brains."  "Listening to people teaches us to listen to God.  Do you find God to be silent?  It may be because He is listening to you chatter." (136)


"Whenever possible, it is best to let others take the lead in correcting themselves.  It is surprising how willing many are to do this if only they catch a whiff of genuine love.  In this atmosphere, as often as not, the forbidden issue will actually be raised by the other person first, and suddenly we're invited to give the counsel stored up within us."  "A good confrontation leaves no mess to clean up.  Since we do not condemn, no condemnation sticks to us." (155)


"Love is surrender. Did not Jesus surrender to the whole world when He died on the cross?  In doing so He showed us the way we are to follow.  He showed us that we are to submit to other people not because they are good or perfect but precisely because they are not perfect, and so stand in need of our love." (159)


"When I speak of the practice of the presence of people …I turn my inner eyes upon people.  Abandoning the noise in side my own head, I let the person before me fill my thoughts and my field of vision.  I say to my ego, 'Excuse me, sir, but you'll have to stand aside right now.  There's a human being who needs my full attention.'" (171)


"When I sincerely enjoy people, they feel this, and they leave my presence more joyful.  When this happens, I too am happier…."  "I make it my goal to see the beautiful flower, the handiwork of God, in every person." (172)


"You'll make more friends in two months by becoming interested in others than you can in two years by trying to get others interested in you." (189)


"Kindness is not my strong suit.  But over and over I've learned the power of small deeds of kindness for lifting depression." "No act of kindness is too small to be significant." (192, 194)


"Much of what goes by the name of intercessory prayer is not true intercession at all, but judgment."  "We need to love people first, unconditionally, and only then will we know how to pray for them." (196)  "If we do not love people when we are with them, we won't love them in our prayers either." (198)


"As a Christian I had always wanted to fix people.  I wanted to win them to Christ….  After years of striving, however, I realized that all my efforts were not accomplishing these ends."  "Hope and love were missing.  If they were present at all, they were not in first place." (211)


"It is one thing to believe that God loves me.  But to believe that people love me too, and to receive their love as from God--in some ways this has come to me as an even greater revelation." (225)


"If we know without a doubt that Jesus is our friend, friendships with people will come easily.  On the other hand, if we fear Jesus, we will fear everyone.  Once I truly made friends with Jesus, I realized what a great many other friends I had too."  (234)


"If we cannot find intimacy with human beings, we do not have intimacy with God either."  "The quality of our spiritual life is best measured by the quality of our friendships.  True growth will inevitably produce a new closeness to people…." (235)


"…while friends are not perfect, friendship is.  Friendship is the perfect bond of love between two imperfect people." (239)


"When we were learning to walk, our parents were there to catch us when we fell.  But who will catch us when we grow up?  This is what friends are for."  "We connect with others not primarily through our strengths, but through our weaknesses." (240)


"Neither our kind deeds nor our preaching best reveals Jesus to people, but rather the dept of our friendships.  There are other ways through which the world may see Jesus, but without this one way, all the others are in vain." (241)


"The range and depth of your friendships accurately reflects your knowledge of the love of God." (250)



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