The Sheep Pen Confession: 4

My current writing obsession involves something of a time warp. The word confession in my title is not an admission of guilt but a throwback to a time when people used the word to express their belief in something of value. My inspiration is the Augsburg Confession of 1530. It was a revolutionary statement of faith aimed at a much needed institutional reform, which promised a relief from dogmatic oppression. I am thereby trying to resurrect the historic act of confessing to a plan of hope, this one relevant in the 21st Century.

My confession is based on a story told millennia ago about a king, who returns from a long absence and divides his people into two groups, likened to the way a shepherd divides his herd between the sheep and the goats. The king’s intent was to impart a blessing on the people, whose behavior during his absence best reflected the qualities of his own character.

The story, or parable, illustrated the desired behavior with six different actions: feeding the hungry, providing water to those who thirst, giving hospitality to wanderers, clothing the naked, nursing the sick, and visiting those in prison. Performing any one of these services for the sake of another meant the doer would be inducted into the king’s sheep pen, the abode of the blessed.

My Sheep Pen Confession proffers three virtues embedded in this story, which are easily remembered using the Confession’s initials SPC for Service, Presence and Compassion. In my last message I wrote about the nature of Service. This week the focus is on the virtue of Presence.

Presence may not be on anyone else’s list of virtues, but I contend it has a rightful place among the run of the mill virtues like courage, humility and gratitude. The moral bona fides of Presence can be seen in the wisdom of an ancient Hebrew statement of praise; Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence. Psalm 95:15

This is a sentiment with which we can all identify, if not on the spectral scale of person to deity, then in the tangible realm with persons of like kind. We imbue another’s Presence with this quality of light, possessing the capacity to enlighten any moment and comfort through emotional warmth.

From infancy we bond with another using our own innate facial recognition software. Involuntary joy gives birth to a smile, when we visually embrace the one who lovingly hovers over us like a mother bird sheltering her young. The rhythm of this original romance is eternal. It defines the fundamental desire of all future relationships, the desire for Presence.

Contrast this to the trauma of abandonment. We see it in people as well as in things. The ruin, decay and battered appearance of any structure holds true for people as well. We bear the telltale stains of sorrow and despair as prominently as weathered barn wood in need of a makeover. Isolation wears us down bodily until our countenance, our posture, our shuffling step reflect a derelict soul devoid of hope.

Loneliness is an appalling condition as dire as any physical illness. Fellowship is a remedy easily administered through the gracious light of Presence. Merely being with someone has the ability to generate a sense of well-being in a manner that is more effective than our best attempts at reason and right doctrine.

Presence is a virtue which scoffs at the ridiculous notion found in a text message that claims the sender is reaching out to us. And while we may fall back on the trite promise that we will keep in touch with someone, Presence is not susceptible to being mailed in. Nothing can replace the power of eye contact, not even a face time app. For ultimately what matters is that true Presence allows for the invasion of personal space through the touch of a human hand. It renders us vulnerable, the true test of our willingness to sacrifice self for the sake of one who needs our help.

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