As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room recently, I saw the words be. here. now. prominently displayed. How appropriate I thought. For a doctor’s waiting room is typically made up of people who would rather not be there at that moment. Indeed, in such a liminal space, we are usually full of thoughts, hurts and fears which do not make it easy for us to be present. We may be occupied with concerns about the past, such as the mishaps or illness which has brought us to that moment. We may be absorbed with worries and anticipations about the future. We may be full both of regrets and forebodings. However, whilst very human, none of this really take us very far. In the face of the, sometimes profound, dislocation of time, space and meaning caused by dis-ease, we need to be able to acknowledge and express these things. Yet ultimately they are not the deepest truth of our lives at the moment and they do not provide pathways to healing. When time, space, and meaning seem to be collapsing around and within us, knowing that we are still ultimately OK, right where we are, is vital. Terrible pain and suffering can of course certainly make it almost impossibly hard even to breathe, never mind acknowledge this reality. However what some of us call 'the divine embrace' is still always there for us, right here and now. Can we trust, and, even in death, let that eternal presence heal and re-create us?...
As our parish comes shortly to celebrate 50 years of its Carnival-time Flower & Music Festival, there is also a corporate call to be. here. now. For we have three options in our personal and community lives. We can dwell on the past, we can ponder the future, or we can live more deeply in the present. Which will we choose? Recognising memory and looking forward are both important: hence our Carnival Festival theme this year of Traditions of Gold, Possibilities Untold. Indeed, it is delightful to remember and to rediscover the living truths and enduring values which have formed us. It is wonderful to anticipate and imagine the new things God will do among us. Yet these can be distractions if they are not fully grounded in the awareness of God’s presence in, between and beyond us right here and now.
John Main, the great modern renewer of the ancient tradition of Christian Meditation, once reflected upon this need to become more fully present in order to grow. As he put it:
At each stage of growth we have to leave all of ourselves behind in order to go forward, becoming an ever new creation. This is precisely what we do every time we meditate. Each occasion we sit down to meditate, everything we have done until that moment, including everything we have been until that moment, is simply abandoned. The more fully the past is abandoned, the more fully renewed we are as we return to our present day. (John Main, in The Heart of Creation)
Such wisdom is not saying that in prayer and worship we escape from past troubles or looming fears. Nor is it saying that the past and future do not matter. What it does, is remind us that prayer and worship enable us to be ever more fully aware of God’s eternal presence the more we leave our selves and our troubles and fears behind. As we emerge from such true prayer and worship, we will then find our lives, our past and future transformed, if only imperceptibly or unconsciously. For in God’s eternal presence all things are held, past, present and future. In God’s presence, all that is good in the past is taken forward and all that is hurtful eased. All that is fearful of the future is calmed and all that is fruitful is enlivened and enlarged. As Michael Mayne once wrote:
I guess that, in the end, the giving of proper attention to what lies all about us and within us, and to whoever and whatever is before our eyes, is much more than the beginning of wonder. For it is also a pretty good definition of love. And therefore it is the surest, swiftest way to God, who is both our journey and our end.
(Michael Mayne, quoted in Esther de Waal, Lost in Wonder, Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness)
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.