I was honking along on my bicycle, pumping the pedals as powerfully as my 11-year-old legs could muster. The winter's chill was thick in the air and school was finished for the day. The final task was winning my daily bike race with David, culminating at the Grey Street give-way sign. And I was losing.
As his bike edged ahead, I decided to take a bold approach. Putting all of my pre-pubescent muscle into each push, I brought my front tire next to the rear of his bike. Then, with the grace of a drunk squirrel, I began to ram his trailing tire.
In retrospect, the outcome is obvious. I don't know what I was trying to achieve. But in a flash, the front of my bike twisted beneath me and I was launched over the handle-bars. The asphalt invited me in for a closer look. A jarring impact, and then painful sliding over the rough stones. Eventually, I tumbled to a halt.
A small crowd of students gathered around, checking if I was okay. Bleeding from both knees and elbows; a lightning-bolt pain emanating from my right arm; torn clothes. But—most importantly—no tears. I brushed them aside, picked up my bike and walked the short journey home. I was the Kiwi male. Pain could not conquer me. I maintained macho.
Once I arrived home, I called my Mum at work, to let her know I'd had a spill. The second I heard her voice on the phone, I did what any child would.
I burst into tears. The pain became present, my arm hurt more, and I could finally be a kid. I could be me. I cried—and all because I'd heard my Mum's voice.
There's something about the presence of another that changes reality. When I'm around my friends, I can become braver, funnier and quick-thinking. When I run with other people, my pace quickens. Around some people I become quiet and self-conscious; around others I relax and feel more fully alive. Presence shapes us, and presence seems to shape reality.
Psychology Today published a report in 2012, discovering that the biggest fear people have when facing death isn't pain. It isn't the finality or the not-knowing-what-comes-next of death. Their greatest fear is dying alone—without people there.
Without being glib, at one level, nothing is different—the person will still breathe their last, and life will cease. At a physical level—being with or without people doesn't make an iota of a difference.
But—at a more human level—we know that it makes a world of difference. Being with others makes good times even better, the mundane times more interesting, and the dark, tough times more bearable and more hopeful.
A Story about Someone
Scottish minister George MacDonald reflected on this universal desire for presence, saying 'Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.' It is in the presence of another that we fully become ourselves.
Perhaps this yearning for presence is what drives people's spiritual journeys. The true seeker is not looking to discover truth as much as they are wanting to be with the truth. It is not always logic and propositional truths they seek—it is to be known, to relate—to be present with one greater than ourselves.
It is illuminating that the Christian story begins with a God who is skin-tinglingly present with His creation, walking and talking with them. Does our desire to be with others and be known find its origin here?
The Christian story culminates in a dramatic marriage of God's reality with earth, and an awe-inspiring proclamation that 'God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.'
And the story of God hinges on a Jewish man who receives the title Immanuel, 'God with us'. One who claimed to be the very embodiment of God, showing us who God really is and what He is like.
This God-man Jesus asserted that the satisfying life was not found in chasing transcendence through wealth, sex or power. It was found in moving into relationship with him, living in the very midst of the presence of God.
Jesus Makes Me Jeremy
When you read the gospels, you see how the presence of Jesus transformed situations. The broken and hurting felt comfortable and at home when with him. The searching found peace and satisfaction in his presence. The arrogant, the know-it-alls, and those with their hands clenched full of greed-and-lust found a threat to their ways of living, and a truth that pierced to their hearts.
And, I've found that nothing has changed. Just as the voice of my Mum let me relax, cry and express my pain and feelings, so does being with Jesus allow me to become fully alive, fully human: fully Jeremy.
Christian theologian and feminist Nelle Morton once reflected that, 'Maybe journey is not so much a journey ahead, or a journey into space, but a journey into presence.' Too often, my life is a blur of distraction and clutter as I seek to pursue life with my eyes closed to the presence of one greater than I.
But her words echo in my ears, like my Mum's voice on the phone today. Maybe this life is meant to be lived as a journey not to riches, not to fame—but into the loving presence of the most present one, Immanuel, God with us.
Jeremy is a theology student, Innovation Consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) and a hopeful, undiscovered hip-hop star
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html