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Spirituality and Presence

By: Christine Summy, A.I.M., M.A.R, M.A., Spiritual Care Counselor and Rev. Rick Summy, M.Div. Senior Pastor at Atonement Lutheran Church

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The Person is:
years old


graduated high school

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Caron Treatment Centers accepts patients aged 13 years or older. For more information on services available to those 12 and under, please learn more about Caron's Student Assistance Program.

Christine’s Perspective

I recently attended a wedding my husband, Rick, was officiating. As I listened to one of the readings, -“Wives be subject to your husbands….husbands, love your wives….”  I felt offended.  “What?!  In this day and age, are we still talking about wives subjecting themselves to their husbands?  I found myself flying my feminista flag.

I began to reflect on ‘presence’ and began to ask myself what’s wrong with being subject to one’s husband? Why does it cause strong reaction and defensiveness?  What is my resistance to the idea of subjecting myself to my husband, as a way of being present to him?  Maybe there is a relationship between being subject to, and being present with, in the context of marriage.

So I looked up the definition of the verb ‘subject to’ and found these:

1.      likely or prone to be affected by

2.      dependent or conditioned upon

3.      one that is placed under authority or control

4.      one that is acted on

What I discovered was that my initial reaction was based solely upon the premise of the third definition – one that is placed under authority or control. My defensive reaction immediately made sense to me. As someone who is in recovery from trauma, I can easily feel defensive and guarded. I still live with a certain hyper - vigilance about who is in control in any given situation. I must work constantly to be present in the moment and consciously aware of who is in authority, why, and for what purpose.  If I am not present, I am apt to react, or overreact, in ways that present as fear, resistance, reluctance or outright petulance.

            1.  likely or prone to be affected by
When I reflected on the other three definitions, in the context of my marriage, I found in them some truths. I have been significantly affected by my relationship with Rick, for the better! I am more patient and honest, less selfish and ashamed.  I am more me, and less who I thought everyone else wanted me to be.  I am more forgiving and confident and less anxious and compulsive about neatness and perfection.  I am more ‘Type B’ and less ‘Type A’.  Love has affected me.

            2.  dependent or conditioned upon
I am dependent on Rick. He is flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone.  I have to be careful to explain that I don’t mean I am dependent on him out of neediness or my need to be rescued. Because I am a recovering co-dependant, that is an important distinction to make.  My deepest secret is that years ago, I wanted a man to ride in on a great white horse, scoop me up and take care of me. Today, I can allow myself to depend on Rick and to ask him for help if and when I need it, which isn’t the same as being rescued. He shows up. He always has. We are two separate individuals, but oh so connected.

My life today is conditioned by his presence. For example, I simply cannot sleep unless he is next to me, spooning, and giving off his great warm body heat. As I fall asleep I am aware that our breathing is in tandem, the rise and fall of our chests in rhythm, like a long and well choreographed dance. It calms my anxiety and creates freedom in me to let go and close my eyes.  That is just one of a thousand ways my life is conditioned by his presence. I know I am never alone, never without help, and never without a listening ear.

            4.  one that is acted on
I have been acted upon.   I am a better person for having known Rick and being known by him. I subject myself to him on a daily basis through the ordinary compromises and negotiations married people encounter. Being married has taught me how to be present, for the sake of someone else, while still being able to meet my own needs.

Anyone who is married knows that marriage can be hard work. Even under the best circumstances and in good marriages, husbands and wives may hurt each other.  For Rick and me, marriage is not a promise that we won’t hurt each other, but a promise that we won’t let the sun go down on an argument.  We are committed to working together to resolve our differences, how ever long it takes, without giving up on us.

So what does any of this have to do with presence, spirituality and recovery?

If I believe and trust in a power greater than myself that is present to and with me, then what is there to fear, resist, or push back against? That’s the premise of Step 3 of the 12-Steps – turning our will and life over is subjecting oneself to the authority and control of a Higher Power.  It only works if we understand ourselves to be prone or affected by that presence for good.  For our Higher Power to work for and through me for the sake of others, I must understand and believe that as a condition of it’s presence in my life I have been acted upon in a way that makes me a better person and frees me to be present to myself and to others.

That’s how the power of the Higher Power works, through people, through me for you, through you for me. And that’s why we can do together, what we cannot do alone.

Rick’s Perspective

“I take you to be my wife [husband] from this time onward, to join with you and to share all that is to come, to give and to receive, to speak and to listen, to inspire and to respond, and in all circumstances of our life together to be loyal to you with my whole life and with all my being until death parts us.”  (Wedding vows) 

One old theology professor with whom I was acquainted used to say that we shouldn’t make promises we can’t keep.

But, being human, none of us keep any of our promises perfectly and we often fail to be present to one another.  When we are self-absorbed or otherwise engaged, we miss opportunities to be present in the kind of ways that make us aware of the Presence.

When we do share in the kind of mutuality that is giving and receiving, speaking and listening (not necessarily in that order), inspiring and responding, in as many circumstances as we can manage, God is present in, with, under, through, and around us, and two individuals experience a  oneness that is a gift of the Presence.

When Chris notices that I am “far away,” and gently probes about what is going on, the potential for such Presence is released.  We can thwart it, but God is always ready to be present, to offer this gift, which is the blessing of a truly intimate relationship.  When she defends her point of view just a little too strongly, I have learned that she is struggling with it or something else.  It’s only by trial and error, by hard-won and difficult insight and honesty that we have the privilege to figure these things out about the other—and to welcome God’s presence into our lives.  I’m not exactly sure what God gets out of it.

The other thing is that absence is not necessarily an impediment to Presence.  Some of our most present moments with each other, with the Presence smiling with blessing all around, has been when we have been separated—one in a hospital bed and one at home, or one on a trip and the other at home—and we get in texting or Facebook messaging conversations that range from deeply serious to incredibly silly. 

So experiencing it creates a longing for it and decreases the chances that we will let it slip away as it so easily can.

Someone has said that 90% of life is showing up. 99% of presence is paying attention among the many distractions the world seeks to sell us. While I am convinced that the Presence is present 100% of the time, if we can respond half of the time, our lives and our relationships, will be enriched in a unity too often terribly lacking in a world of I, me and mine.