How quickly we forget the lessons we suffered so long to learn.
Though I have never been so lucky as to boast a collection of porcelain figurines with sad, tear-drop eyes, I do have a collection of precious moments, made all the preciouser when I take time to notice that I’m in the midst of one such moment. I thought this a lot when we were in France last summer, wanting to suck up every minute, not losing a beat, not shutting my eyes to any experience–even walking down the street.
It’s funny, though, the other times that strike me as precious in retrospect usually aren’t exceptional in the moment. Taking an early morning run on Duke’s West campus, walking down Morningside Drive to the place I housesat in Edinburgh, or stopping in at my favorite frozen yogurt store in St. Louis–these mostly mundane experiences are so sweet when I reflect on them now.
This evening I remembered that I’m in the middle of another such moment–this sacred time in the mountains, walking to yoga camp and back to the grocery store, hot, sticky days and cold showers to calm down for bed. Surely I’ll look back on these days with the same affection and warmth that other exceptional adventures have afforded me.
What’s even more important to realize, though, is that every moment has the capacity to be a precious moment. It doesn’t have to be a far-flung locale, a grand adventure, or any thing out of the “ordinary.” Every moment, if we approach each one with awe and expectation, can surprise, delight, challenge, and transform us–if we allow it and are open to the change we’ll undergo.
I’m reminded of the bit of the book, Screwtape Letters: the present moment is the point at which humans touch eternity. There is great possibility in meeting God, in experiencing growth, in celebrating something precious every single moment, if only we will hold and recognize each moment’s precious offering.
walking to my morning watering hole (does that title work for coffee shops, too?) down Main Street with sandals on my feet, my fingers tingle just a little bit with the cold. Later today, it’ll be 70 degrees, but now it’s hardly 50 out–I love the freshness of the morning.
Even so, the peeking sunshine jogs my memory of long, hot, sticky days in July and August–already I dread walking more slowly because it’ll keep my temperature down and feeling as if I’m swimming down Main Street.
It’s 51 degrees, and in my mind I’m already baking in 101-degree weather.
My memory and anticipation (of sweaty 101 degrees) ruins the present moment (of gloriously chill 51 degrees). Some anticipation is good; studies show that most of the enjoyment and mood-boost of a vacation occurs before the actual event takes place. When anticipation steals the present moment’s joy, though, and even causes you to lose focus on the good, blessed bits of life, anticipation, and especially fear (if “fear” isn’t too serious a word for a reaction to hot temperatures!), ought to be kicked to the curb as quickly as possible.
Big futurey clouds can quickly overshadow the present moment; all the uncertainty and possibility can overcome the gentle, ordinary beauty of your simple surroundings this very moment.
Instead of looking ahead in fear to July’s heat, or to the possibly wonderful, possibly disastrous future, may we take a deep, deep breath and notice the beauty of this very moment right here.
Sometimes it’s easy to notice God–like if there’s a voice from heaven, or a burning bush. Sometimes it’s not as easy to notice God, he might even seem absent, but I believe he’s always there, only as far away as your arm can push him.
Recently, breathing has taught me a lot about God; when I spent a night with a roommate at a retreat a few weeks ago, as I turned over in the middle of the night, I noticed that I could hear her breathing. It was slow, and steady, and deep. Its rhythmic pulling through her lungs lulled me back to sleep.
I realized that if it’d been daytime, I wouldn’t have heard her breathing, though often people sit much closer to me than we had been in the room the night before. There are so many other noises, distractions, demands during the daytime that take our attention away from our own breath and from the sound of others’ breathing. It doesn’t mean that the noise of their lungs is gone, but that other noises are louder, more insistent, more immediate.
I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with how we’ve trained our attention; whether, if we wanted to, we could shift our ears’ attention to noticing others’ breath, the living force that keeps each of us going every moment of every day.
If we let it, I wonder if each others’ breath, each others’ understanding of and reflection of the Holy, might shift our attention to the deeper, most-immediate parts of our lives–God’s presence around us all the time.
“The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them for eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
– The Screwtape Letters
Screwtape goes on to talk about the various pros and cons of trapping a given “patient” in either the Past, or the Future; the Past, while distracting, is of limited use, he says, because there isn’t much unknown–it’s been experienced, it can draw one off a good path, but it doesn’t take them much of anywhere else. The Future, however, is very fruitful for despair’s handmaids, as tempters may suggest all sorts of fearful, disastrous, unknown, untested events, possibilities, and thoughts, all of which come at an alarming speed, producing a scurrying mind with little connection to reality.
Mindfulness, a practice I suspect our dear mystical brothers and sisters knew well, is fantastically useful in combating the mind’s susceptibility to darting around anywhere except This Moment. Reality, which can sometimes burn us with its brightness, might make us want to run behind the dark shadow of the Past, or to find tasty unreality in the Future, but it is only in living in the bright reality of the present moment that its healing heat can transform us (in this Church season of Epiphany, the bright truth of God’s love shines hot on humanity through the person of Jesus Christ).
This morning, we threw away a carton full of raspberries. They were big and juicy and red and just the right amount of tart (a week ago). I was saving them for something special. I never did discover what the special thing was, and while I was working hard to save them–seeing them taunting me on the refrigerator shelf every morning–they grew moldy. All my difficult work, saving them up for something special instead of enjoying them NOW, ended up to be for naught. My effort to enjoy them later ended up meaning that I never got to enjoy them–though I’m sure the mold spores enjoyed the berries very much.
Reflecting on moments and phases of life when I’ve been more generous with my time and energy, I know that those are the times I’ve been most happy. Then, more often than my generous moments, I get grabby with my time. I want to protect my moments and hours, to save them up for something. But why am I saving this precious time? Where is it all going? It goes into watching netflix and lolling around the house, into using up the energy on my wandering, worrying mind–which is not fun at all.
It’s like on high school track team, when our coach, Mr. Barney, told us to leave it all on the track at the end of a race. Why else had we trained our muscles for weeks and eaten carefully for days and stored up our energy that morning? I remember always being afraid that I would leave too much on the track–that my strength would give out before the end and I would just fall over, or that I’d just stop, or… whatever it is that happens when you really get to the end of your physical rope (can you tell I never really quite got there?). Because of course a 16-year-old who’s in decent shape should be worried about falling over after running half a mile (see “worrying mind” above).
Let’s worry less and leave more of ourselves in the moments of our lives.