In Matthew’s Gospel, the final words Jesus offers to his disciples are the following: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Some time later, during those disciples’ pursuit of the ministry, James would suggest: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” In short, we do well to experience the presence and proximity of divinity, of our loving Creator God.
So, what do presence and proximity mean? And what do they not mean?
When I consider presence and proximity, I think of the absence of physical separation, to be nearby to someone or something. If Jesus is present, then that means he is close to me in a way that can be measured. Additionally, it means that he is in my time – not a few thousand years ago and not at some point in my unknown future. He is now. Finally, it means that he is understanding of me, that he listens, gets to know me, and accompanies me as I proceed through my life.
What do presence and proximity not mean? As Jesus was departing his disciples at the end of his earthly life, he did not promise them that their days would be happy, easy, or free from suffering. He did not say that he would grant them their desires or that their every wish would be his command. Saint James made the point that it’s a two way street: we need to want to draw closer to God as he wants to draw closer to us. He doesn’t impose this upon us: we have a say in the matter.
I have been pondering this for two reasons. First, I wonder about the spiritual life and what its goals are. Do we seek salvation? Sure. Do we want to live a better life? Yes. Do we want freedom from want, pain, and hopelessness? I’d say so. But Jesus promises us presence and proximity. This makes me think that we would do well to seek that from him. To, as James instructs, draw closer, knowing that he always wants to draw closer to us.
Second, as disciples of Christ ourselves, we should pay attention to the notion of presence and proximity. We should try to be nearby, in a mindset that is very much in the now, and seek to be understanding of those we encounter. In particular, we should be present and proximate to those who are suffering, who face great challenges, who have no hope, who are lonely, who lack optimism, and who feel abandoned.
We should aim to be present and proximate for others. And if we can do this, we can help Jesus do the same for them. We can be the ones who help to elevate hope. We don’t do this by solving problems, winning arguments, teaching, persuading, convincing, or judging. We do this by simply being present and proximate.
How can we best be present and proximate?