Do you remember classroom roll calls? The teacher would read down an alphabetical list of names, glancing up for a half-second before pressing on. When you heard your name, you were expected to speak up before the teacher marked you absent.
Most kids in my public schools would say, “Here.” But once in a while, some advanced thinker would instead shout, “Present!” I wondered in elementary school why the teachers seemed to go along with it. If a kid could demand a gift during roll call, could I have said any word I wanted instead of just the boring “here”? I didn’t understand the full meaning of “present” at the time.
Nowadays “be present” is taking its turn in cultural slang. Who knows how long it’ll last before it joins outdated sayings like “groovy” or “fresh”?
It’s a compliment: “The best thing about that guy is he knows how to be present.”
It’s a goal: “I just want to be present every day.”
It’s a need: “Hey, would you just be present for two minutes with me here?”
It’s a way of saying to give all of your alert and undivided attention. To be present is to not be distracted by anything going on besides what is the here and now reality right in front of you. To be present has the sense of to “live in the moment.”
Lately I’ve had a curious image of God replaying in my head, like one of those catchy tunes that won’t go away. The image is God standing in front of me, close as if meaning to whisper an intimate secret. He’s reaching out to me. He longs to cradle my face in his gentle hands so that my eyes will rise to his…but he holds back. In a soft, pleading sort of voice, he says to me, “Be present with me here. Be present with me now.”
He wants my attention. Not for what’s happening in another city or another country. Not for future plans or past mistakes. He wants me present here and now.
When a kid shouted “present” during roll call, it implied two things. One, the student was physically present in the classroom. Two, the student was present with at least enough attention to hear their name called.
I want to be present in such a way that when God calls my name, I can shout back, “Here I am!”
Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” … The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:4,10