December 5, 2011
tendency to project oneself into the future and to be weighed
down by the past obscures our relationship to the present.
Memory, a vast storehouse of images, memories and experiences,
is active in every moment of life. Without the aid of memory we
would be in serious trouble, having to learn from scratch every
time we set out to do something. The downside of memory is that
the past can invade and crowd out the present. We also lose our
connection to the present when we become overly caught up in our
concerns for the future. Here are just a few articulations of
the time problem from a variety of sources, ancient and
The Gospel of Matthew (6:34): Take therefore no
thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the
things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
"Let the soul be happy in the present, and refuse
to worry about what will come later," wrote the poet Horace.
Marcus Aurelius observed, "We live only in the
present, so infinitely small. The rest either has already been
lived, or it is uncertain."
The poet Goethe (Faust II): "So the Spirit looks
neither forward nor backward. The present alone is our happiness."
What depends on us is the present Ė the site of
action, decision, and freedom; what does not depend on us comprises
the past and the future, about which we can do nothing. (Pierre
Hadot, Art of Living, 191)
In Words to
Live By Eknath Easwaran discusses the importance of
spiritual practices in combating the emotions that prevail when
we lose proper relationship to the present. As meditation
we develop the ability to withdraw our attention
more and more from the past and the future to focus it on the
present. And as we begin to live more and more in the present, we
make the exhilarating discovery that past and future exist only in
our minds. It is a tremendous realization, for it means that we are
released from any burden of guilt about the past and any anxiety
about the future .
that "we can
of life, as
Anxiety is no
laughing matter. In
normal times, it waxes and wanes in a person's life.
We are anxious one day, but more carefree the next.
Often enough, we discover that we have been needlessly
anxiety-ridden, that we worried for nothing. Thus have spiritual
writers throughout the ages warned against anxiety. Jesus
himself tells us not to be anxious of mind. St. Francis de Sales
counseled his directees in the 17th century not to look ahead in
fear but to put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
Directives to combat anxiety are meant to help us to ground
ourselves in the present moment. The practice of the presence of
God, of living faithfully in the moment, trains us to face
anxiety squarely, and thus gradually to grow more secure.
never leaves us completely Ė it is an aspect of our human
condition Ė the practice of presence is indispensable in
Prayerful recitation of prayers and inspired sayings (as above)
is an effective means of returning to the present moment.
The practice of just sitting and doing nothing in
particular for a period of time is also a way of slowing down
and learning to be in the present moment
Presence to Other/others
Finally, we are
in the world with others. We strive to live in the present so
that we might experience to the full the delightful gift of our
existence. We live also to obey the commands of our Creator,
who renews our life moment by moment, and who calls us to serve
the world and others. Adrian van Kaam taught that our presence
to others has the potential to be a reflection of the presence
of the Mystery to us. The wording is noteworthy: a
reflection of the presence of the Mystery to us. We
reflect Godís presence. Ultimately, our contribution in
building the Kingdom of God derives from what we receive
from the Lord. This receptivity is based on presence, Godís
faithful presence to us, our growing awareness of and presence
to Godís presence to us. When Godís presence shines to others
through us, we give witness to the gracious Mystery who abides
in all, for all.