What Is Presence?

In a previous post, I talked about Jesus’s presence in the Easter story. A friend of mine read my blog post and said, “I sort of understand what you mean by presence, but give me an example.”

I am not talking about seeing visions, hearing voices, or hallucinating. Even if Jesus did speak to me, he would do so in Aramaic—no comprendo!

The first time I became acutely aware of Jesus’s presence was in 1954. I had just graduated from college and gone to boot camp in the Marine Corps, where I hoped to be chosen for Officer Candidate School. To make a long story short, my platoon sergeant didn’t like Private Aulenbach and wanted me out. The review board, on the other hand, liked Private Aulenbach and sent me back to that sergeant’s platoon every week. This torture went on for twelve weeks.

The night before I found out whether I would be promoted to lieutenant, I went to the slop shoot (enlisted bar) to have a beer. On my way back to my barracks, I passed the chapel and felt drawn in. Unfortunately, in college I had “divorced” the church, but I went in anyway. The inside was dark. I sat in a pew. Suddenly, I felt a presence—no voices or flashing lights or drama, just a presence. Then, a message appeared in my mind: “Bil, it doesn’t make any difference—private or lieutenant, you have the wherewithal to make either work.” Suddenly, I felt a peace that surpassed all understanding.

I went back to the barracks and slept like a baby because whatever would be would be. I couldn’t put my finger on what that presence was—nor could the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion, Mary of Magdala, or the disciples. I hesitate to give it a source or an explanation. The presence was just there.

The next morning, I appeared before the review board and was informed that I would not be promoted to lieutenant. I was to go directly to the office for orders to my next duty station and be a private for the next two years. That was okay. I knew I had done my best.

I went to the office and was told to return immediately to the review board. That was strange, but I did as I was told. The board revealed that I had been tested to see how well I followed orders. I passed and was promoted to second lieutenant the next day.

That was great news, but even more important was that feeling of presence. It reappeared periodically throughout my life, often when I faced a challenge. Sometimes I felt it for no discernable reason. In those moments, I felt like I was one with Creation.

Is this experience religious? I have no idea, but because I am religious, I assume this presence is spiritually significant. Do I experience it because Jesus is my Christ? I feel that the two are connected but can’t prove it. I do associate the presence with the Easter stories.

I love that feeling of presence. I hope it keeps returning.

Have you ever felt a presence?


Image courtesy of Mark Morton (CC BY 2.0)

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