Book Report: Practicing the Presence of People

Practicing the Presence of People: How We Learn to Love by Mike Mason

“We are not born with love; it is something we must learn.” Thus Mike’s premise opens a host of quick meditations on how to embrace the glory of God in every single person we meet. If this sounds like a feat possible only for the super-extroverted among us, Mike is a contemplative introvert with a highly developed appreciation for the mess of humanity. His thoughtful writing smacks of grace—an essential component if we are determined to view love as a lifelong practice. Some of his ponderings are ethereal, others practical. “If we like, we can sit around endlessly speculating on the meaning of love. But why not just get on with it?”

Some of my favorite quotes include:

The range and depth of your friendships accurately reflects your knowledge of the love of God.

If our lives are not rich in love, we must consider the possibility that, however orthodox our theology may be, we have somehow missed the point of Christianity and we must go back to square one.

One small taste of how good life can be will ruin forever a trapped and boring existence.

To know ourselves, and others too, we must take a leap of trust and let people out of the box. Boxes are for the dead, not the living.

God is always present; the problem is that we are not.

The somebody you are striving to be will keep you from knowing anyone else. Let your goal be not to glorify yourself but to glorify others. Stand aside and let them shine—and then see how your own light blazes forth!

Either life is practice, or it is performance. It cannot be both.

The concept I’ve kept circling back around to is this: “A wise teacher … once recommended to me that rather than reading many spiritual books, I should choose one and simply follow that one, reading it over and over and working it into my life.” I personally enjoy hunting for new books to add to my reading list, and I adore checking them off one by one as I finish them. But now it occurs to me that I may have merely created an intellectual obstacle course for myself instead of a transformative habit empowered by the Spirit. Surprisingly, my big takeaway from a book about learning to love has very little to do with love. Then again, perhaps the ideas are more closely linked than I imagine—”The way we relate to books says a great deal about the way we relate to people.” Choosing strategically based on what each selection can offer me, plowing ahead too quickly from one to the next, and engaging with only my head rather than including my heart? Maybe not the best approach to books or friends.

Ten journaling questions based on the text:

  • How can I remind myself to marvel at the image of God in every face I encounter throughout the day?
  • If my happiness is directly related to how many people I love, what changes could I make to increase that happiness?
  • How does my most troubled relationship reflect the state of my overall spiritual health?
  • Where have I been living pinched and stingy with my love?
  • How might I shift the center of gravity in my relationships from serving others in order to change them to making changes in myself in order to serve others?
  • What would it take to get in touch with the soft, precious core of the real me (rather than the diamond-hard mask I use for protection)?
  • What (or whom) have I been viewing as inconveniences that God meant as enrichment?
  • Where has pride kept me from the dance of friendship?
  • How have I been chasing perfection rather than enjoying freedom?
  • Do I listen for the mood of each day and live accordingly, or do I arm myself against reality with expectations and agendas?

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