One of the most important concepts of the religion of ancient Israel, and in today’s Jewish Kabbalah, is the concept of the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה), the Presence of God. After God gave the Torah to Moses and Israel made a covenant with God, God’s Shekhinah, his presence-glory, started to inhabit the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle. The Ark would come with Israel to battle, it would be the center of all worship festivals and rituals (the biggest community events), and it was the most sacred, cherished and protected thing in all of Israel. When enemies stole it, it was like complete darkness and defeat covered the land, a sense of abandonment by God, whose Presence has departed.
The Presence of God was what assured Israel of their importance, identity, and strength… Its departures and returns from the land marked the light and dark points in their history. What was the main reason why the Presence departed from Israel? The people becoming proud, ignoring the poor and the widow, and ignoring the afflicted. It was apathy, and greed for power and riches. In simple words, when love was absent, Love departed.
To me, these events and symbols show how presence demonstrates approval, intimacy, and security, and how we are so dependent and desiring of the presence of the Other. Some religious people pretend that having the presence of God – the Ultimate Other – in their lives is all they need. They pretend not to need a real, mutual presence with other people’s lives, and build walls to protect their pain. Lonely due to pride and self-righteousness, or blinded by apathy and incapable of real love, they turn to a lone wolf zealotry. The perfect expression of “using God as a crutch”. The God of the bible seems to hate that idea. It is to rebel against the fact that He made us social beings who need one another. We really do, and it takes both humility and intention.
To be honest, the Christian bible shows how even God understands that we are desperate for human presence and touch. That is the doctrine of Incarnation, celebrated in Christmas: God knows we are not satisfied with an abstract exalted concept of a God that is far away from us, and He decided to take on a human body so that He would be part of our human family, and be with us. He chose to eat, drink, laugh, weep, embrace, sleep, suffer like us, with us, as one of us. The Shekhinah as a Man. God put himself in a humble place of empathy towards us, that we may commune with him. Even though we did not agree with him, or even understand him, He chose to be with us.
Christian theology teaches that Jesus, when He left, gave his breath to his disciples, to spread among us and inhabit us, that each of us, his Church, would have Him inside of us. God in us, in a temple of flesh, living and breathing, to continue eating, drinking, laughing, weeping, embracing, sleeping and suffering with us, in us, as us, until the end.
If you are a Christian, live that reality. Understand that if you think your neighbor needs God’s presence in his life, your duty is not to argue with him. It is to move and bring your presence in your neighbor’s life, since you believe God is in you. Fully give yourself, your time, your attention. Listen, laugh and weep together, even if you don’t agree. God made us to be there, present, relentlessly loving, caring, listening, and respecting our neighbor, even if our neighbor is our enemy. Love’s presence is where love is present.
Nobody needs presents, but we all need presence.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!