Be here now: The benefits of living in the present
There's no time like the present for living in God's presence.
I worked for more than a decade as the editor of a busy little weekly newspaper, and I often complained that the people who stopped by my office "just to visit" kept me from my work. Because newspapers are vehicles of communication, people are apt to pull up a chair and have it out with whomever will give them a hearing.
One day, as the obituaries and police blotter on my computer screen begged for editing, I gritted my teeth through a rambling story by a gentleman with landlord troubles. I bit my tongue to keep from blurting out, "And what does this have to do with me and my newspaper?" when it occurred to me: Slow down. This is work, too. Good work. Not just being there for someone in need-valuable enough-but being there for the moment. Calm down, take a breath, and just be present to this encounter.
Most of the spiritual masters have spoken of the present as a holy place. In his spiritual gem Abandonment to Divine Providence, 18th-century Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade urges the reader to embrace the present as an ever-flowing source of holiness. Every fraction of a second, he writes, contains a fragment of Christ's hidden life: "O bread of angels, heavenly manna, pearl of the gospels, sacrament of the present moment!"
Be content with what is, accepting all as God's desire for us, declares St. Francis de Sales. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, the saint suggests we "take patiently the petty annoyances, the trifling discomforts, the unimportant losses which come upon all of us daily, for by means of these little matters, lovingly and freely accepted, you will give [God] your whole heart."
In some translations of the New Testament, Jesus himself says the kingdom of God is "here." I like to think he is talking about this time, this office, this place of surprise and delight. The past holds lessons, the future embraces promise, but the present bursts with grace. To put it another way, God was there in the past and will be present in the future, but God is most alive in the now.
God even calls himself by a name that signifies the present. "Tell the people," he says to Moses in Exodus 3:14, "that the one who is called I AM has sent me to you."
The encounter with the gentleman in my office-whom I wound up connecting to a lawyer specializing in landlord-tenant disputes-was an awakening for me. Still, it's taken time to feel at ease in the "now," the place where God places me at this moment for my growth.
Throughout most of my life, I've clung to the notion that being worthwhile means being busy-endlessly productive in work, relationships, hobbies, exercise. Slowly I am learning that one of my greatest lifetime achievements should be to relax into the holy moment given to me by God.
Every second of life is charged with God's grace. To feel the power, the energy and the consolation, we need only unwind into that awareness. Each moment is holy if approached with mindfulness and welcome.
The benefits to living this way are many. Because I know I am where God wants me to be, I am more relaxed about challenging experiences. In these occasions, I am consoled by the fact that, because the moment is God's, I can give up the intensity of battle. I am not alone in a place of suffering without meaning. I can abandon myself to where I am-learning patience, forbearance, faith, and sometimes even (gulp!) surrender.
The holy moment theory also allows me to enjoy life with greater depth. My ability to enjoy life, indeed to find joy, magnifies. A walk on the lakeshore, a romp with the dog, a cup of coffee with a friend, even a moment of serving as a sounding board for a stranger are all blessed with a richness I did not know possible.
Nowadays my life is only a bit less hectic than when I was an editor. I've moved back "home" to take care of an elderly parent, and I work at the local library.
But through some concrete ways to be mindful and be present, I find that these days I watch the clock less and worry less. I am better at yielding-not perfect, just better. People seem more beautiful because they are for me messengers carrying God's lessons. If I were not alive to the moment, how much grace would pass me by?
Being present to the moment may just be my highest calling. As I keep mind and heart on the "sacrament of the moment," I find I am living not so much in the narrow confines of my own making, but rather in the spaciousness of God's love.