Monday, June 05, 2006

Coming into the Present

'Coming into the Present' was delivered at the Headstart Leaders' Spiritual Retreat, 16-18 September 2005. It is part 2 in a series of 4 reflections under the title 'Come Away With Me'.

One of the reasons we are REST-LESS, is that we are often not in the present. We are too caught up regretting the past and worrying about the future that we cannot live in the present moment. We may be reading our Bible or praying, but our hearts are somewhere else – the unsolved problems at work, the difficulties in your relationships, etc.

The first question God ever asked Adam & Eve after they sinned, was: ‘Where are you?’ Shame over the past and fear of the future abdicates our souls from the present. We are no longer able to live in the present and we have been fleeing God ever since. They could not ‘walk with God in the cool of the evening’ as they used to.

How can we possibly enter God’s rest, if we are not even here? God is in the present, God is here, and we can only meet Him here and now. How much of our life is wasted being all over the place, bouncing back and forth between the past and the future, but never settling in the present?

Coming away with Jesus means to enter into the present and to enlarge the moment. We have to be able to let go of the past and stop worrying about the future and come to God, saying: ‘I am here.’ When we are in touch with the Eternal One, time seems to stop for us, and we step out of time for a while. Time then is no longer about minutes and hours but about love and meaning.

Henri Nouwen in his book, ‘Here and Now’, says: ‘the real enemies of our life are the “oughts” and the “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful.’

But how do we let go of the past? The past is full of regrets. Things we should’ve done and should not have done. The shame of our sins cripples us, and we are filled with self-loathe or imprisoned in self-hate. When we hate ourselves we will hate the world. When we can’t forgive ourselves we can’t forgive anyone else. The past continues to haunt us.

The really good news of the good news is that there is a way out. When David kept silent, his bones wasted away. Guilt festered, his loneliness intensified, and the anguish was destroying him. He said: ‘When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin.’ (Psalm 32:3).

The key to freedom is disclosure and forgiveness. Receiving forgiveness enables us to forgive others. That is the point of the parable of the unforgiving slave (Matt 18:23-30).When we have been given unlimited forgiveness, we can also freely forgive. Canceling others’ debts to us is a choice we make, and sometimes a long-drawn process, but it is for our freedom that we release others. We certainly need more grace in our churches – we need help relieve the burden of Christian perfectionism, and not find ways to replace the sting of death with more guilt and legalism.

The uncertainties of the future paralyse us through fear. We are afraid – of failing, of losing something or someone. But Jesus insists that the ‘anxieties and worries’ of this life only choke us. They will asphyxiate our lifeline with God and retard our progress spiritually until we face our fears. David devotes countless psalms to fear – often for his own life, over injustice, betrayal, false witness, and even God’s judgement. But each time, he finds deliverance in the goodness of God and ‘taking refuge’ (over 43 times). Pride keeps us from ‘humbling ourselves,’ and ‘casting our anxieties on Him.’ (1 Pet 5:6-7)

Finally, we need to cultivate a sense of awareness. We learn that the only time we can experience life and God is now. We reenter the moment. With simple disciplines we learn to be aware of ourselves and God who has always been there. We learn to breathe again. Chew our food. Smell the grass. Let the simplest day-to-day experiences arrest us and penetrate our beings with the Presence of God that is there. We need only to come home into the present.

Reflection and dialog:
1. What deep regrets, hurts or fears do you have? How do they impair your relationship with God?
2. Confess, receive His forgiveness and ask for grace to forgive those who have wronged you.
3. Have there been moments that when you felt God’s immanent presence? Share that moment.

Recommended Reading: Here and Now, Living in the Spirit by Henri Nouwen

Part 1 - The Tragedy of Restlesness
Part 2 - Coming into the Present
Part 3 - Return to the True Self
Part 4 - Journeying from Eden to Heaven


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