“Now or never!” Instead of never we could put “is the time.” Better still is the political slogan “(Whatever) Now!” Curiously though, none of these slogans are actually talking about present time. Rather, they are all talking about an ideal future because the present situation is not very good. Act now for the good of the future. We are given a great gift of eternity within the moment. The gift of now is underappreciated. But only because we think we appreciate it. The present is a paradox. Many of us consider the present moment as a time to either think about the past or consider the future. What if we simply enjoyed the moment?
Now Hear This
Military people stop in the evening for retreat. It is a time when all activity stops for the lowering of the flag. The Daily Office prayers are meant to be times when activity stops. But the prayer often feels like another activity. Last week during morning prayer, I realized the moment of stillness when I was completely at ease with what I was doing. I said prayers of thanksgiving. I was in the eternity of the moment. It was an unusual feeling.
Prayers of thanksgiving are especially helpful. Giving thanks for something that happened in our past is a means of letting go of what happened. Yes, we should remember good things from our past. But we give those events away in thanksgiving. We should never seek to rest on past glories. Once we learn to let go of the good, letting go of the bad is strangely easier. Have we been dominated by the bad things of our lives because we refuse to let go of the good?
Leaving the Bad Behind
A bad past should not dominate the present. Yet, the bad past often holds sway when we mistakenly think we should emphasize the good in it. Consider the Lost Cause narrative perpetuated after the US Civil War. It admits and at the same time excuses the greed, bloodlust, and the violence of slavery. Were “state’s rights” involved? The state’s right to do what exactly? Please do not emphasize the devotion to God of certain generals. What good did their devotion do them while they feared the future? By holding onto the good we begin dressing up the bad as good while perpetuating misery.
Acknowledging sinful action is important. It allows us to live guilt-free in the present. If we seek to excuse it in any way, we have not let go of it. People are perplexed by this. Our view of good is warped by culture, time, place, and training. Only God turns evil to good. We often mistake our perceptions for this divine act.
What Do We Do Now
Being in the present is difficult to do in our achievement-driven culture. The story of the rich farmer who decided to build larger barns to hold more goods sought to retire. He lived his whole life for this achievement. (Luke 12:16-21) He never experienced now until the very end of his life. “You fool, this very night your life is being demanded of you.” Laying aside everything Jesus said about the pitfalls of wealth, we should consider the misuse of time. The rich man uses every moment he has for a dreamed-about future that never comes. Wasting the present for this looks foolish to most of us only because of his tragic end. We would think him prudent if he had enjoyed his planned retirement.
How we use the present matters because it is only ever the time we have. It is eternal for us at that point. Our relationship with social media and the internet comes to mind. I recall a 9 year-old boy tell me he did not want to come play with other children. He wanted to go home and play on his phone. As a person who uses the internet and social media on a regular basis, I am cognizant on how much time is wasted on it. But I only recently realized how much of the present is avoided by users. Spiritually unhealthy people find new means of subverting spiritual health due to how the algorithms of search engines and social media work.
What we do now is avoid using screens as means of spiritual fulfillment. Interact with reality as it is. The internet sees every user as a device into which it uploads chosen software. We should choose wisely. Appreciating the present moment in prayer and meditation helps us make those choices.