I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ep 3:18)
Have you ever heard of “Mise En Place?” Pronounced [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas], Yes, it is a fancy restaurant in Tampa. But that restaurant is named after a French phrase which means ‘everything in its place’. It comes from the culinary world, and has to do with putting all the ingredients, utensils, pots and pans in the right place ahead of time in order to cook the most efficiently as possible. It is more than just a procedure for good cooking, it’s kind of an entire mindset. Everything in its place allows chefs to cook delicious food as efficiently as possible. It works in the kitchen, and it works pretty well in life too.
Most of us have jobs where being prepared and organized is essential. If you are a lawyer, weeks of research and preparation must take place before going to trial. If you are in finance, weeks of analysis takes place before buying or selling a stock. Even if you are a priest, lots of research and preparation goes behind every written and spoken word, be it a funeral eulogy, a toast, or a Sunday sermon.
Preparation is important whatever your job, yet you probably have experienced what seems like the exact opposite in your careers and lives; that some of your best work has come when you couldn’t prepare. I remember several occasions where I was asked at the last minute to preach before fellow clergy, without time to even write anything down. These turned out to be some of my best sermons. This confused me for a while. Should I prepare less for my sermons, since often they came out better than when I prepared a lot? It took me a few years to figure out that my successful off-the-cuff performances weren’t due to my being less prepared, but due to my being more present. When a person is present, in-the-moment and attentive, the whole atmosphere changes. A present speaker and leader brings out the presence in others. Preparation isn’t the enemy of presence, but you can’t get by with one or the other-planning or presence-and not both.
Today’s Epistle reading reminds us of the importance of presence in the spiritual life. Sure, there is much in the Bible and in our Christian faith that has to do with preparation and with ‘everything in its place.’ But ultimately, it is presence which brings us where we need to go. Jesus’ advice to His Apostles is still relevant and powerful wisdom for us today. “When they bring you before…the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’ (Lk 12:11). When you are cooking a meal or filling out your taxes, everything in its place is great. But when you are trying to live radically by your faith and values of empathy, justice and love, everything will never be in place, and the power of presence is of the utmost importance.
And here is where presence for a Christian diverges from its common understanding. For Christians, being present isn’t just about opening yourself up to those around you, the conditions in the room and being in the moment. For Christians, the one step before being in the moment is being in the Spirit, or in Christ. That’s why the Apostle Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ thirty-four times in his letter to the Ephesians. Why is being in Christ so important to Paul and to us Christians? Perhaps this illustration will help. Imagine that you are standing near an airplane. That plane can do something that you cannot do yourself. You may really want to fly. You may know everything about planes. You can stand really near it, but it can’t make you fly. That plane cannot take you with it—unless you are in it.
In the same way, we need to be in Christ to be in the presence of God’s spirit and to raise up ourselves and those we love. Many of us Christians try to get away with standing near the plane, standing near Christ. I go to church when I can. I try to be a good guy. I know a few things about Badarak and a few things from the Bible. But that is standing near Christ, near the plane, not in it. Christ came to raise us up into abundant life, to help us fly, but we cannot get there by ourselves. Your job and my job is to be in the plane, in Christ, and in his presence to be alive to the most important events of our lives.
In this way, perhaps the French saying “Mise En Place” is even more profound than it seems. For though we cannot prepare for many things in this life or control the outcome by our efforts alone, nonetheless, ‘everything in its place.’ And our place as sons and daughters of God is to trust and abide in Christ, by which we are joined to the power and presence of God and are given wings to fly, now and always and unto the ages of ages, amen.
-Inspired by Dr. Sarah Drummond’s “Planning and Presence and Eric Ludy’s “In Christ”