Where can we find God?
We may have found God in the past in inspiring liturgies or nourishing retreats or wonderful conversations with a friend. But God does not dwell in the past.
And we all long to find God in our future, in the latter years of our planet-side journey or on our off-planet journey into the kingdom. We may even be one of those who look for Jesus' immanent return to establish justice and peace sooner rather than later.
But I propose that the only way we can find God and ourselves is in the present moment.
I have a saying, attributed to Helen Mallicoat, beautifully framed on my wall, which says:,
I was regretting the past
and fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
"My name is I am." He paused.
I waited. He continued,
"When you live in the past,
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in this moment,
it is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.
Yes, it is best for us to live in the here and now, in the present moment. It's the only moment we have to work on -- to embrace and interact upon what is happening to us, what we are saying and what is being said to us.
The present moment is the only one in which we can be conscious. It is the only moment we can take in everything before us, the only moment in which we can be fully alive. We only can remember part of the details of our past, even the most pleasant and joyful experience; still, remembering is in the present. So, too, we can only have fleeting glimpses of our future; yet, the future awaits us in our present actions. The present moment "presents" reality to us in all its possibilities.
Some moments are more significant than others; some are little moments. Some are big ones which can change our lives, if we are truly "present" to them and take full advantage of them. Some are in-between moments that happen on our way from one involving moment to another. Some of us rush from one big moment to another while others of us seem stuck in boring and seemingly uneventful ones. In either case, we fail to take in what is being offered us in the present moment.
We have a lot to do about what happens in the present moment. We can "make" moments happen for us. Just this afternoon, I was feeling bored. I didn't feel quite ready to sit down at my computer and write this issue of Arise, so I took a walk. I found myself particularly "present" to -- taking notice of -- the long shadows of the buildings and trees as I walked in the pleasant neighborhood near my apartment building. The light alternating with long shadows was the focus of my attention. I was creating a rather pleasant moment for myself.
I don't know how significant this present moment at my computer will be for me, how well this issue will turn out, so I am doing what I always do -- focusing on one word, one phrase, one sentence at a time. For me, words come out of me as if in a stream from a garden hose, sometimes a trickle, sometimes in a nice flow. I focus on the word that is at the point of my cursor; by focusing on that one word, the next one emerges. My focus is always changing from one word, one sentence to the next. Time flows for us that way; it keeps going. Time is flowing like a river that never ever stops -- until some day in our collective futures in which our Savior decrees that time should intersect with our eternity.
Sometimes our present is painful. We may be dwelling on a serious argument we had with our spouse. Or the fact we have been out of work and don't know from whence the mortgage money will come on the first of the month. For elderly people especially, life may be painful for one day may seem to be the same as the next.
In circumstances like this we might be tempted to "self-medicate" ourselves by some activity that dulls the pain. We can self-medicate with seemingly innocent escapes like watching TV all day or more harmful ones like immersing ourselves in a bottle of Jim Beam. Our younger people may find escape in a hit of cocaine or in forays into the late night in search of "Ms./Mr. Right."
Often the pain we try to avoid is the pain that erupts into our lives from the past -- memories we cannot seem to get away from. But the remedy for self-medicating is to embrace the present. If we embrace the present, we should be able to find something around us that can offer legitimate and satisfying focus. We can work through the pain we feel so that we will be soon done with it. Perhaps instead of watching all the soaps and "Divorce Court", there might be a good book lying around to read. And perhaps that book can involve you so much that you feel a new surge of life within you.
You see, the present moment bids us to find life in the little things. This morning when I was returning home from Mass, a little moth got into the car. I opened up the window slowly to let it out and observed as it found its freedom. Little things, unusual things, like that can fascinate me. I encourage you, dear readers, to find life in the simple things in the present moment that can arrest the focus of your attention.
Some of us live in a "desert" of dryness for years. Everything appears the same -- day after day after day. But if we train our attention, we can find new things, small things, to delight, and even excite us. In the desert it is easy to overlook life. All there seems to be is expanses of sand and burning sun. But, if we look a little closer, we can find signs of life popping up in little plants and animals and insects hard at work and hardly bored on the desert floor.
However, as any addict or alcoholic knows, this change within us takes discipline. We have to "train" ourselves to focus on wholesome, life-giving, nourishing things. We need time to reflect. If we are running from one moment to the next, we never take time to sort through the wheat and the chaff of our lives.
We have to train -- to discipline -- our focus, our attention, our awareness as a camera searches out the best angle of a scene to be captured for the viewer. This discipline is not easy. We have to bring ourselves to an alert and fully conscious posture. In other words -- and this may sound strange -- we have to "think about our thinking." We have to pay attention to what is going on in our head. We also have to pay attention to our feelings as we think our thoughts. The hallmark of human life is to be conscious; that is, to really experience what we are present to and then reflect on what we are thinking about the experience. When we do this, we can change what we think and what we feel. And we can cherish and enrich the good thoughts that we have.
Living in the present moment is the antidote to being half-alive and half-conscious or dwelling on the negative most of the time. If we get stuck in shame and guilt and resentments from the past, we are too pre-occupied to notice or focus on the little things inviting our awareness and attention in the present moment that could engage us and cure our boredom.
Then, too, if we become so afraid, so anxious about our future, we, likewise, will overlook and pass by the opportunities for change that present themselves in the here and now that could shape our future somewhat differently for us.
It may sound, dear reader, that your author, has got this thing of living in the present moment down to a science. Do not think that. Remember that I said that earlier this afternoon I was feeling sorry for myself that I didn't have something interesting to do with my Sunday. I was bored. The first thing I did was have some dinner -- an unexciting, but nourishing frozen dinner; it was good. Then I took a walk. Then I sat at my computer and only a few words came to me. I started to panic: perhaps I had hit writer's block again, I thought. But here I am, an hour and three columns later turning out a rather nice piece once again. I have to pay attention to my own advice!!!
The most exciting part about living in the present moment is that that is the only "place" we can find God. God is always presenting himself in new ways, inviting us to new and deeper levels of meaningful reflection. For example, at this moment, I feel delighted that God has permitted me to write still another piece that can nourish me and some of my readers. Please note that the focus and the feeling for me has completely changed in an hour's time -- all because I focused on one word, one sentence at a time! Once again, I have found God in my own writing. The point is, that some of us may feel that our present is too painful because it's always the same -- the same old hangover, the same old TV program, the same old me. But, the truth is, that the present moment is always changing. Time flows like a river, and it is Heraclitus' river: We cannot step into the same river twice.
Then, too, have you ever noticed that some "moments" seem longer than others? A deeply involving conversation with a friend may seem like it lasted a few minutes, when, actually it lasted for hours. Similarly, a day with little to do may seem like a lifetime. I have always been fascinated by the psalmists observation that "For God, a thousand years are like a single day, and a day like a thousand years.
If we immerse ourselves in the present moment, we will find life. If we immerse ourselves in life, we will find God. If we immerse ourselves in God, we will find our True Self.