More than when I was younger, I am an obituary reader. At least two questions are prompting my interest as I do. Will I find the name of a friend or acquaintance? And, how old are those dying? I confess with the second question to a curiosity about where my age puts me in the race to the conclusion of the mortal chapters of my life.

The first question is about empathy. But the second is more complicated. Part of it is about competition: How am I doing in the aging race? I’m not proud of that. But it is also about gratitude for a longish and love-filled life, a life during which I have come to know the One.

There are no words that are big enough to wrap around the reality of “God.” I’m always looking for synonyms. Teilhard de Chardin comes close to the reality I know when he speaks of encountering God as “the Presence.” He amplifies my recognition of the experience when he says that we find the Presence “in the raw and always grace-filled core of relationships.”

The relationships Teilhard writes of are certainly good, blessed by the Presence, but there are things such as bad, even destructive relationships. These are what Martin Buber calls I-It relationships. These are driven by ego, self-centeredness where the other is valued to the degree he, she or it can serve your purpose.

The relationship Teilhard is talking about is what Buber calls I-Thou relationships. In this relationship, the other is valued as of equal worth, equal sacredness as you. (Love your neighbor as yourself.) We get an insight to what Teilhard is telling us when we hear Buber saying that when we see and honor the sacredness in the other, our own sacredness is shown.

Teilhard takes us a step further toward understanding that getting to Thou is not all sweetness and light. There is a raw aspect as well as a grace-filled aspect to I-Thou. The way to I-Thou relationship goes through the abrasive process of ego deflation.

Enough abstractions. Here is how it works in my life and marriage. There are aspects of me I don’t want to face but need to if I’m to grow in self-understanding, humility and kindness. Loved ones are best placed to confront me with them. My reflex response is denial. I feel as if a private part of me is besieged, the part that Mary Oliver, in her superb poem “Hum Hum,” calls my “house of denial.”

Oh the house of denial has thick walls and very small windows and whoever lives there, little by little, will turn to stone.

Nancy and I have learned over our years of marriage, aided often by good counseling, to risk speaking the raw truth of our unhappiness with one another. It is dangerous territory, often fueled by disappointment or anger. We are so important, and vulnerable, to one another.

When we move into that raw place in our relationship, the truth of our opinions and feelings deflates our egos. It hurts but is endured because we’ve come to realize it is the path to a more grace-filled relationship. The rawness of it actually frees us to a deeper intimacy.

Recognized or not, the light of the Presence shows us the way to where by grace we recognize the sacredness of one another. The marriage is fun again.

This is a story I tell using my words. Nancy would use less “religious” words but she knows what I am talking about. She sees my sacredness, too. That is what we mean when we say to one another “I love you.”

I’ve used my space today sharing with you what turned out to be a very personal illustration of finding the Presence in relationship. I set out to tell about how developing the eyes to see and the ears to hear the sacred, particularly in nature, reveals the Presence and saves the world. I’ll probably get to that next time.

Bill Gregory is a retired UCC pastor who among other things reads, writes and leads groups interested in spiritual growth. He welcomes your response at [email protected]