Boyd C. Matheson: Holy presence follows being wholly present

In a distracted world we often are half-hearted in our engagement with others; being wholly present is a prerequisite to enter the path toward sacred ground and holy presence

The most holy thing we can give another person is our presence. Our whole presence.

In a distracted world we often are half-hearted in our engagement with others — providing a half-listening, half-distracted interaction that produces half the connection, half the joy and half the impact we could have with others. Digital devices, pressing priorities, busy schedules and our own personal problems prevent us from being completely present to the people right in front of and all around us.

Being wholly present is a prerequisite to enter the path toward sacred ground and holy presence.

I have spent more time than I care to admit at business, political and media events. I have seen individuals in search of political positions, business promotions or public prominence be anything but present in any conversation. These people shake hands and exchange pleasantries but are constantly scanning the room for someone “more important” or “more interesting” to pursue. The constant searching often causes them to miss entirely important connections and meaningful conversations.

Present people are powerful.

Earlier this year, then-Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon visited our ward. After the meeting, during what I am sure was a very long day, Sister Cordon spent time with our young women in a most amazing way. Sister Cordon has mastered the gift of being wholly present as she ministers to every individual she meets.

I was amazed at her present, complete, whole and holy focus on each young woman as she looked deeply into their eyes. She asked amazing questions and, more powerfully, specific follow-up questions. Every conversation led to an invitation, by name, to each young woman. Time seemed to stand still, as it always does, when a disciple’s whole presence creates sacred ground for a moment of holy presence. That kind of ministering from Sister Cordon is truly what ministering in the Savior’s higher, holier way looks like.

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During President Russell M. Nelson’s global ministry to the Pacific, I witnessed the power of holy presence in Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong. The Prophet’s schedule was packed as he visited with Church members, media and government leaders in Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga and Fiji. Amid a most demanding schedule, Elder and Sister Gong demonstrated their unique ability to connect and listen while creating holy space for members, missionaries and anyone they passed along the way.

I came to recognize an extraordinary cadence change to every conversation with the Gongs. I watched usually rushing government officials physically exhale and smilingly pause as Elder Gong asked deep, meaningful questions and fully listened. When Sister Gong would race over to talk to missionaries and young members, fleeting seconds suddenly became moments of eternal perspective, hope and joy. I witnessed again and again, how the holy ground of holy presence is manifest when individuals feel deeply seen, heard and understood.

President Nelson and Elder Gong, center, with Sister Nelson, left, and Sister Gong, right, all wearing leis, wave goodbye in Fiji.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong, wave goodbye to attendees after a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

On the final evening of the ministry President Nelson and Elder Gong sat for a last interview before they would race to the airport to fly back to Salt Lake City. It was evident that everyone traveling was exhausted and running on fumes. As the interview ended, the crew began to hustle about packing up the equipment to load for the airport. At that moment, when he could have been getting his things and going to the car, Elder Gong came over to me.

Wholly present, Elder Gong asked me specific questions about my impressions from the trip, what I thought and what I learned. He listened intently, completely. He then asked what I would be taking home from the tour. I think I said an exhausted body and some great memories. Elder Gong, in a most present way said, “No, what are you taking home with you to remember all that you have experienced?” Elder Gong’s whole and holy presence created holy ground where I recognized sacred moments and connected a physical reminder to a spiritual journey through the Pacific.

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President Nelson in a social media post July 28, 2017, wrote, “In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior. You will be overwhelmed to the point of tears to be in His holy presence.” He continued: “But you don’t have to wait until then. Choose to be one of His true disciples now. Be one who truly loves Him, who truly wants to serve and lead as He did.”

Holy presence is what we long for in our challenging and hectic lives in mortality, and it is what our Heavenly Father and the Savior want most to give us. The sacrament creates space for us to have Their presence and Spirit to be with us — if we will be wholly present. Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught in April 2023 general conference: “Four years ago, by reducing the time of our sacrament meeting, we increased our focus on partaking of the Lord’s sacrament. We are thinking more of Jesus Christ and are more serious in our promise to always remember Him.”

Being present, rather than distracted, transforms “taking the sacrament” to “partaking of the sacrament” and invites the renewing, restoring and reenergizing power of holy presence into our souls.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson and Kathy CHristofferson stand with several United States senators outside the Washington D.C. Temple.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Sister Kathy Christofferson, pose with several United States senators and other invited guests outside the Washington D.C. Temple on Monday, April 25, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

During the open house for the Washington D.C. Temple prior to the rededication, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles led a group of congressional lawmakers on a tour. The group felt something different as Elder Christofferson powerfully created sacred space, within the sacred space of the temple, for each of them to be present and to sense the divine.

As the group prepared to enter the celestial room, Elder Christofferson instructed them that this room represented being in the holy presence of God and that they wouldn’t talk but simply sit and be present — pondering or praying as they chose.

After the tour I asked a senator about his experience in the celestial room. He said, “Of course, there was a great feeling of peace.” He then paused and corrected himself, saying: “No. More than peace, I felt a sense of place — I understood my place and my relationship to the holy presence of God.”

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ, the pinnacle of the temple endowment comes after we are presented as one who desires to enter holy presence. President Nelson is right — we don’t have to wait until the next life to experience our Heavenly Father’s and the Savior’s holy presence. We can “choose to be one of His true disciples now. Be one who truly loves Him…”

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was completely holy and wholly present for the woman at the well, the leper, the man at the pool, the woman taken in adultery, Lazarus, Mary and many others. In the Book of Mormon, we read how Christ manifested His holy presence in a one-by-one ministry to the people and especially to the children.

We can also minister and be connected to those in our families, wards and communities by being wholly present in our interactions, filled with compassion in our conversations and seeing everyone through the lens of the Savior’s redeeming love. Giving our whole presence to others is holy, and such a walk with our fellow travelers will lead us all to the sacred ground of Jesus Christ’s holy presence.  

— Boyd C. Matheson is bishop of the Manila 9th Ward, Pleasant Grove Utah Manila Stake, and hosts an afternoon program on KSL NewsRadio in Salt Lake City.

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