Saturday, December 26, 2009

Now or Never

In his Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly spends quite a bit of time trying to explain the full experience of now: He refers to time-nows and Eternal nows. Again and again, he returns to the concept of the Eternal Now, each time taking a different path so that we can begin to grasp what he is trying to say. He is trying to explain the ineffable. He is trying to help us understand what cannot be understood intellectually, but only through personal experience. To some degree we can hear what Kelly is trying to say, but his explanation requires stepping into the experience through prayer and meditation.

In prayer and meditation we can begin to know what it means to exist outside of time. When we have lost ourselves in those moments of union with God, we step outside of time into eternity. This is the nature of relationship with God – it is eternal. When we enter into relationship with God, we enter into eternity. We transcend the chains of time and are free to be present in the eternal now. The past and future cease to exist – they become one with the now. The eternal now becomes vast, beyond the words of explanation that we try in vain to attach to it. Like anything else, once we have stepped outside of time, our understanding and existence in time is fundamentally changed.

One thing that is different is that our view of the importance of the time-now is transformed. It is the Eternal Now that takes precedence over the time-now. The eternal now informs what we do and how we think in the temporal moment. For one, we understand the present moment in itself, detached from the past or the future. We begin a process of holy forgetting – forgetting the past so that we can live in the present. Not that we lose what is of value from our past experience – after all, that is what makes us who we are today, and thus is a part of the present moment. But we don’t dwell in the past, ruminating on what is finished and thereby forgetting the present. What is done is done, and we cannot change it. So we manage some holy forgetting, letting go of those things that tie us to the past. We also live in the present moment by losing our worrisome thoughts for the future. Through faith and trust, we can let go of those things in the future that keep us from living in the present and trust that God knows our needs even better than we do. We realize how useless it is for us to worry about the future when we don’t really even know what it is that is needful. God knows, not us. The question is, in truth, a question of how much we trust God. If we trust God to know what is needful in the future and to care for us better than the lilies of the field, then worry is not an issue. Now, of course, this is not a license to be irresponsible. Part of how God cares for us requires our own participation. We do what we can. Trust that it is what God requires of us; trust that God will provide what is needed. It is amazing how this happens if we can let ourselves let God.

The experience of the eternal now changes how we view the past and the future and permits us to live in the present. It is an experience that may come through prayer and meditation. We provide the space and the time, and God meets us in that sacred moment. Life is changed and we begin to live each moment to the fullest. What grace it is to forget the nagging business of the past. What grace it is to leave the future to God. In the present we live with God and touch eternity. We dwell in the moment.

Without the nagging past and worrisome future to hold our thoughts hostage, we can be present to the presence of God. Here we find ourselves praying without ceasing, finding praise and thanksgiving irresistible. We respond to the world from that place with God, directed and guided in each thought and conversation. We exist in a new dimension, living both in time and in the eternal. Although it is the nature of creation, and us human beings as part of creation, to exist within time, it doesn’t mean that this timely existence must blot out the eternal existence and the present moment. The present moment becomes the dwelling place and the past and the future are incidental. What is important is immediate, which is God. And it is this experience of immediacy where we learn to love as God loves. The world comes into our love and care more and more as this immediate God desires our love and care for it. We are able to be carriers because we have been present to the present moment and have stepped into eternity to bring that great love back with us. The one who receives this love of God is transformed. We have been transformed in the eternal now so that others may be transformed. The world is changed.

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