How Do We Treat the Present Moment?
One of the primary disciplines I have tried to practice through the last half-dozen years in my spiritual journey is responsive awareness to the Presence of God in the present moment. What this means is not only verbal affirmation that God is near and God is present and God the Holy Spirit is within me, but the tangible obedient response to the reality of that awareness. Sometime, I think it might be easier to climb Mt. Everest in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops.
It is not as if the practice and responsive discipline to God’s Presence is impossible, it is the stark reality of all that competes with that practice for the prize of our attention. I wonder what this says about us. As Christians converse with one another, we often become more attuned to the Presence of God among us…yes, I know this attunement occurs outside the confines of conversation with other Christians, but it seems to manifest itself very often when Christians are in groups. They become more “responsively aware” of God’s always-there Presence. We will speak fondly of Him, to Him, and reflectively on how He is involved in our lives as well as the lives of others…even others who may not be in relationship with Him at the time. And, this is good.
I wonder though, about the moments we don’t live responsively attuned in this manner. When we find ourselves without the proverbial “Christian string tied around our finger,” I marvel at how easy it is for us to slip from responsive awareness of God’s Presence to tyranny-of-the-urgent, life-at-full-speed, auto-pilot. I know this happens in my life; less than it used to, but I think my awareness of the phenomenon taking place at all makes it all the more unsettling to me.
Thomas Keating writes about the practice of the present moment; “We settle into the present moment which is the only place God actually is. God is not in the past and not in the future. God is right now, totally present, totally available. Our best response is to be totally available to that presence. We surrender ourselves after the manner of Mary of Bethany. She gave herself to Jesus, recognizing in him the fullness of the Spirit and the manifestation of the Father’s unconditional love.”
I think my take away from this thought from Fr. Keating is our full surrender to God’s Presence and full attentiveness to His Word and full responsive obedience to what He asks of us in that moment. I think, speaking for myself, it is the times that I am more attuned to my own agenda and schedule that I miss this moment of God’s Presence. It is not that I am not aware that He is near… as I said earlier, I affirm that truth. However, there are times there are “bigger fish to fry.” (Gasp) Yes, I said there are more important things than being aware of God and saying “yes” to Him. Do I believe this to be true? I will say “not true” with my words, but I often will say “yes-true” with the way I lead and schedule my life. Oh, I will cloak my attitude of ignoring God with words that say I am “doing the work” of God, but in truth… more times than not, I am doing my own work disguised as God’s.
The reality is we miss being with God and doing with God in the moment He most wants from us; the Now Moment. I know I’m not alone when I say I tell myself that I will “set aside” time to be with God and do with God, but the more I give thought to this the more I think that attitude is presumptuous and arrogant. I’m reminded of what James writes to the church with the following words:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:13-17
I’m pretty sure every moment we choose not to practice the Presence of God in the Present Moment, we are choosing ourselves (arrogantly and presumptuously so) over God. I’m wrecked just thinking about the times that I have thought “I’ll spend time with God later” or “I’ll read my Bible later” or “I’ll help such and such later” and on and on and on. James reads my mail and says, “HAH! Who are you little man, You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow…” And again, we hear a similar thought from Thomas Keating with these words:
Purity of heart was the primary objective of the practices of the desert fathers and mothers. They called contemplation “pure prayer,” meaning prayer that is coming from a pure intention where the love of God is predominant. They did not seek for any reward such as consolation or enlightenment, or practice for the sake of motives that have their source in the ego, however devout. In point of fact the ego is not devout at all, though it likes to think it is devout and tries to hide behind a variety of religious facades. The spiritual journey is designed to put to rest these facades. But the false self is incredibly clever. Its desires are “worldly.” It wants security, affection, and esteem, and power and control, as substitutes for waiting upon God in loving attentiveness.
Where is it that God is not? What areas of our lives or the lives of others have we declared “off-limits to God?” There is nowhere that God is not. And, in the Grand Magnificence of God there is always only Now. We are the linear creatures we think in terms of past, present, and future… only us. I think for everything else that is part of God’s creation there is and always has been… only NOW. I think Keating is right; there is no past or present to God, only now exists and therefore… only now is important. What are we doing with our “Now” moments?
And so it goes… What stands in the way of our ability to treat the Present Moment with responsive and obedient awareness of God’s Presence is our ego. Perhaps… just maybe… the reason Jesus said if we desired to find life (in Him) we must be willing to lose our own life. We cannot enter into unbroken fellowship with His Presence without the loss of our own. Our ego is our saboteur. Our ego will always be our greatest stumbling block; not time, not urgency, not some need, not anything… our ego—ourself, that is the problem and that is why Christ calls us to the cross. This is the only way to practice the present moment with unbroken fellowship and completely responsive and obedient awareness.
So… How do you treat the Present Moment?