On Presence and Encounter: An Excerpt from Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner, PhD

The following is an excerpt from the preface to Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life by David G. Benner, PhD.


Far from being merely a topic that I chose out of a desire to write another book, what follows is the fruit of a haunting interest that chose me over forty years ago. I have been pondering the nature of presence and encounter since first reading Martin Buber’s I and Thou as a university student. His assertion that “All real living is meeting” struck a deeply resonant chord in me. I recognized even then—and now know with much more certainty—that the most vital and significant moments in life are moments of encounter. Whether it is encounter with others, the Wholly Other, or myself, these are moments when I know that life is its own meaning.

Presence makes encounter possible. It also makes life meaningful. The search for meaning is really a search for presence, because grand systems of truth or meaning can never satisfy the basic human longing for life to be meaningful. Without presence, nothing is meaningful. But in the luminous glow of presence, all of life becomes saturated with significance.

Only in presence can we encounter anyone or anything. Others may be present to us, but we will not notice their presence until we are present ourselves. Once we are truly present, everything that has being becomes potentially present to us.

It was a glimpse of these possibilities, along with an encounter with Jung and Freud, that led me into clinical psychology. That same glimpse subsequently guided my efforts to make presence and encounter central to my psychotherapy, spiritual guidance, and transformational coaching. Usually, there has been a gap between my aspirations and my experience, but I have never lost my conviction that all real living is meeting, and that this is made possible by presence.

Yet instrumental applications of these powerful dynamics miss the point that in order to truly unpack transformational potential, presence must be a way of living, not merely something we attempt to do. Presence is not something that can be turned on and off like a tap. It is either an expression of our being or it is posturing and pretense.

Ultimately, we can no more control presence than we can control our being. Presence and being are so beyond our control that we are unable to even adequately define them. I will do my best to clarify what I mean by these terms, but you will quickly notice how big concepts such as presence and being resist containment in a string of words that we might offer as a definition. This is even more the case when we encounter them with an initial capital letter. When I speak of “Being” or “Presence,” I refer to God. Naming the deity in these ways reminds us that neither names nor definitions contain reality but merely and imperfectly point toward it. This is particularly true when words are used to point toward the Ultimate Reality we have conventionally called God. While these concepts are big, it is equally true that they have immense practical implications. It is these implications that most interest me, and we will keep them very much in focus as we explore this topic together.

I long to live with more presence. I long to know the presence of God more deeply. I long to learn how to make myself more available for encounter, and I am convinced that these things are all connected—that somehow my presence is essential to an encounter with the presence of anyone or anything, especially the presence of the One who is the ground of being and the source, therefore, of presence.

I write about these things not so much to communicate what I understand as to help me learn to live with more presence. Consequently, the voice with which I will be writing is a voice of one sharing ponderings rather than teaching truths. It is my hope that my ponderings will evoke your own, for it is in such reflection that the practical implications of the things we discuss will take root in your soul.


©2014 by David G. Benner. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.