And every step an arrival… On the gift of the present moment

Posted by on Jan 12, 2016 in Blog | 4 comments

I am presently reading Eugene Peterson’s wonderful biography The Pastor which has on its front cover Rilke’s memorable line ‘every step an arrival’. It reflects Peterson’s own conviction that when all is said and done, the work of a pastor is not primarily to get things done or to be surrounded by a flurry of activity, but to pay attention and call attention “to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with each other and with God.”

What is going on right now. Spotting God in the present moment. It is not the same as acknowledging His fingerprints over the past, nor a faith statement about what He will do in the future. It is about the right now of our life… the right now that we often wish away, or long to be out of. But every step is an arrival… an arrival in this particular place which we call now. And it is never a godforsaken place though there might be many reasons causing us to falsely assume that it is.

What does it mean to live ‘every step an arrival’?

Perhaps it starts when we take time to think deeply about Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 6:34 ‘Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.‘ That’s not the same as saying that we should never plan ahead, but it is saying that we should not allow anxiety about what the future may (or may not) hold to distract us from the tasks currently at hand. Anxiety about the future can blur our vision, preventing us from seeing the gift of the now. For Jesus, the future would often have loomed ominously, the shadow of the cross never far away. Yet he managed to live fully in each day of his ministry, finding time to turn water into wine, to welcome children into his orbit, to heal the sick, to teach the multitude, to slip away for solitary prayer, to cast out demons, construct memorable stories (they don’t just happen – you have to think about them. Can you imagine Jesus pondering, ‘I wonder if that would work as a parable…’) Jesus might have been executed in his early thirties, but he had lived so many ‘now’ moments that the writer of Hebrews 4:15 is able to assure us that ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses.‘ If he had lived shallowly, thirty years, indeed even a hundred and thirty years, would never have been enough. But because he lived so deeply in each given moment, his experience of life is more than enough to help us in ours.

For every step to be an arrival, two potentially distracting forces need to be clearly identified. They are the past and the future.

Many are held captive by the past. Mistakes made sometimes grip hold of us and fool us into thinking that they represent the entirety of  our life story. They do not – unless we fail to take hold of the release and forgiveness offered by Jesus. God has a way of helping us to write a new script – one where the past can be the building material for a better present, rather than a forever condemning dirge of ‘if only…’ (if only that hadn’t happened; if only I hadn’t, if only, if only, if only…) When we hear the constant beat of ‘if only’ we are unable to see the gift of the present. The past is blinding us to the new things that God is currently doing. Joel 2:25 gives a wonderful promise, liberating in its original setting, and just as liberating today – ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.’ It is a promise to take hold of, for when we do, we are freed to embrace the present moment with fresh hopefulness and gratitude.

The other distraction is to keep thinking that it is only the future that matters. Now is not the moment that counts – tomorrow, or the completion of a project, or the full attainment of a goal… That is what we are striving for, and the present moment is simply a short term stage we will pass through. When this attitude takes hold, happiness and fulfilment is a ‘then not now’ category.

Now it is true that ultimate joy is an eschatological concept. We are never fully at home until we are home with God, and ‘Maranatha, come Lord Jesus’ is not just the cry of Revelation 20:22. It should be our cry as well. But that is the point. Because we know that it is a cry that will be answered, we are liberated to be present in the present. If all will ultimately be well, I can gaze deeply into what the now brings, because unlike the existentialist, the now moment is not the only one I am sure of. I do not cling tightly to the present as some kind of consolation prize for a life that will ultimately disappear. Rather, I am free to be fully in the now because I have no deep concern about the future. I am not distracted by anxiety about what tomorrow might hold. The future is God’s – and God can be trusted.

And so in this now moment, I am glad for a Perth summer day that today felt more like spring. I am glad for conversations that have amused and inspired and encouraged. While technically now past, they are very much in the now of my present emotion. I am glad of the promise of food soon to be eaten, and rest not too far off. And I am delighted that Christ is present right now, right here – now and forever, world without end…

 

4 Comments

  1. What a fascinating conversation! I’ve been recently trying to “think” more rather than just live reactively in the present. Living in the present seems to operate at an animalistic instinct level. So then how do you train your instinct? Or a real mind bender, how do you think in the present? I find it interesting how Jesus’s words are relevant to the contemporaneous greek academics who wrote a lot about this stuff.

  2. A simple teaching, but such a hard one which needs to be remembered over and over. Thank you for this remembering, a powerful post.

  3. Thank you Brian. The timing of this post has been perfect for where I am at right now. I am guilty of allowing anxiety to blur my vision. This has clouded my ability to pursue the practice of living in the present, of being actually present with those around me and it has robbed me of joy. Again, thank you for these words of encouragement… A reminder of hope.

    • Thanks Matt. Hope you can find peace in the present, regardless of uncertainties that surround.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *