Here and Now: At Hand

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).  It was another way of describing here-and-now living.  But the words “at hand” provide us with two additional insights about living in the present moment.

First, life is near.  For some reason, we can come to think it is somewhere else, somewhere later–when we are different, when our circumstances are different, etc. But life shrivels when we think it is elsewhere.  The major religions of the world all teach that the present moment is sufficient.  From it we can receive what we need to be alive to God, to others, and to ourselves.  We do not have to postpone abundant living.  Jesus’ words place the Christian life in this same view.

The nearness of life enables us to concentrate on the present moment, allowing it to nourish us, and making it an occasion to do good to others.  Compassion is born when life is “at hand.”  The invitation to live in the present moment takes us out of ourselves and motivates us to serve others for the sake of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:5).  The Kingdom is near, and we are to live in the world in Jesus’ name.

Second, life is ordinary.  For some reason, we can come to believe it is only when we experience something “big,” something out-of-the-ordinary, something spectacular.  Interestingly, Henri Nouwen viewed such occasions as the antithesis of abundant living–the way Satan tempted Jesus to trade in his God-given life for a knock-off version. [1]  But he did not fall for it, and neither must we.  When Jesus used the words “at hand,” he made everyday living holy.

Similarly, Brother Lawrence counseled us to practice the presence of God in our routine activities.  He said that picking up a stick out of the road so another person would not trip and fall is as holy as receiving holy communion. [2] This kind of spirituality recalibrates the way we look at life, and live it.  It gives us to see God present and active in everyone and everything.

It is when we embrace “ordinary holiness” that we can receive and give joy in the most simple and regular things.  Gratitude is born when life is “at hand.”  

[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Lesdership (Crossroad, 1989).

[2] Brother Lawrence, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ (c. 1640).  It remains in print in traditional and ebook formats.

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Where Life Is

Jesus said two things that, when put together, show that he wanted us to live in the present moment.  First, he told us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).  That was his way of saying, “Don’t try to live in the future.”  And second, he told us not to put our hand to the plow and look back (Luke 9:62).  That was his way of saying, “Don’t try to live in the past.”

All that’s left is the present moment.  It’s the only place where life is.  Even our bodies tell us this.  We do not live on yesterday’s heartbeat, nor do we live on the assumption that it will still be beating tomorrow.  We only live because it is beating right now.  That’s why heart attacks are life threatening and have to be addressed immediately.  We cannot live on yesterday’s or tomorrow’s heartbeat.  We have to have a pulse right here.  Here-and-now is the location where life exists.

When we apply this to the spiritual life, it is the same.  The past gives us memory, and the future gives us hope.  But only the present moment gives us life.  And not only is it the location of life, it is the source of life; that is, the present moment is sufficient.  Here and now we can experience God.  Here and now we can understand who we are.  Here and now we can discover what others need and how we can help them.  Right here. Right now. It is enough.

The past and the future drain energy from us, Jesus said.  The future makes us troubled.  The past makes us nostalgic.  The present concentrates energy in the here-and-now, and like a laser beam it is energy that ignites us rather than depleats us. This is one reason why the mystics used the image of fire to describe abundant living.  It is in the present moment where we live, move, and have our being.  It is where the “i am” of our life meets the “I AM” of God.  Fire!

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Incarnation

I agree with Henri Nouwen that Jesus is the Gospel. [1]  He is the Good News.  This applies to every aspect of life and to every article of belief. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  The Incarnation is the peak of revelation.

So…in Jesus…we see the pinnacle of here-and-now living.  Today, I point out two illustrations.

The first is the fact that he spent 90% of his life in Nazareth.  This is quite amazing when put into the context of Jesus’ mission “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  At first glance, it would seem that Jesus would “get on with the program” as soon as possible.  But what we read instead is that he waited quite a while to launch his public ministry.

I use the word ‘public’ deliberately, for I have come to believe that his announcement in the synagogue at Nazareth was not the beginning of his ministry. He had been in ministry every day for a long time in Nazareth.  It was a here-and-now ministry that sanctified the ordinary.  Jesus did not start being holy when he hit the road.  He had been holy walking the city’s streets, honoring his parents, making friends, and plying a trade–all present-moment activities.  

The second illustration comes when we see Jesus’ willingness to alter his plans and pay attention to people around him: talking with the woman at the well, going to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch, blessing children, healing a blind man sitting by the side of the road, taking the opportunity to point out that a field ready to harvest was like the Kingdom of God, etc.

Everyday holiness.  It came so natural to him because it was the way he had lived his life as far back as he could remember…and…something you’d expect from the Son of the “I AM” God, Who is Love…the One through whom all things were made, and cared for all he made.

[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘Jesus: A Gospel’ (Orbis, 2002).

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Behold!

Moving from the Old Testament into the New Testament, the linkage word is, ‘Behold’–or more simply, ‘Look.’  It is what the angel told Joseph to do relative to the unexpected announcement that Mary was going to have a baby (Matthew 1:23).  It was a link between the Testaments because the angel quoted Isaiah 7:14 in the message to Joseph.

What was foretold in the Old Testament was coming to pass in the New Testament–at least from the vantage point Matthew was using to write his gospel.  Mary and Joseph were the bridge between prediction and fulfillment.  The word ‘behold’ was the way for them to recognize it.

The word essentially means ‘paying attention’–that is, to stop, look, and listen to what is happening here-and-now until the moment yields its meaning.  As we have already noted, every moment is a God-moment.  This was certainly true with respect to Mary and Joseph’s experience.  What else could the angel say but, “Listen up.”

Years ago, I read an interview done with Henri Nouwen.  He was asked to define the spiritual life.  He rightly noted that defining it in a single sentence was impossible, but the interviewer persisted with the request.  Nouwen replied, If I had to define the spiritual life in one sentence, I would say it is ‘paying attention’.”  Behold!

Beyond Joseph’s original moment two thousand years ago, the exhortation is the same one we receive moment-by-moment: “Listen up!” until our   chronos time intersects with kairos time– until we “get it” ( or it gets us), and we move into responsiveness rather than reaction.  Joseph’s willingness to ‘behold’ altered his initial plan, and enabled him to be part of God’s plan.  That’s still how it works today.

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Remember

​There is much more in the Old Testament that can help us live in the present moment, but we must move on if this series is to be contained within our yearlong time frame.  One final look at here-and-now living in the Old Testament comes to us through the word ‘remember’–a word (zākar) that occurs 235 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It includes the customary notion of mental recollection, but it points us to something more–something we see when we write it this way: re-member.  Re-membering in this larger sense is what we often mean when we use the word ‘recollection.’  Remembering is re-collecting ourselves from the many other “locations” our minds take us (what Buddhists call “the monkey mind”) and return us to full presence here and now.  

The opposite of this remembering is forgetfulness–more than the loss of memory, but rather always being attentive to somewhere and sometime other than where we actually are.  Thich Nhat Hanh describes it as drinking a cup of tea, but thinking about something else….sitting with someone, but thinking about someone else…being somewhere, but thinking about the past or the future. [1]  Jesus called it being “troubled”–a condition of distraction that can move us into fear.  We refer to it as being preoccupied.

Metaphorically, it is being “away from home,” because the present moment is our only home–the only time when life “is.”  So, the Bible exhorts us to live here and now when it tells us to remember.  Remembering is the focusing of our attention in the present moment, so that we can have eyes to see and ears to hear (Mark 8:18) what is going on–and having become attentive, then to enter into life with insight and compassion.

[1] Melvin McLeod, ed., ‘The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh (Shambala, 2012), 42.

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Prophetic Particularity

We near the end of our brief exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures by pointing to the prophets as longstanding examples of those who saw and proclaimed the here-and-now life.  Beginning with Moses in Exodus 3, and running through the biblical revelation to Malachi, the prophets were God’s means of showing that the life of God in the human soul occurs in the present moment. [1]

They did this in three primary ways.  First, by naming the imperialism (fallen-world reality) that existed in their respective places and times, in both the political and religious domains–and the ensuing collusions of the two.  Second, by calling the people to remember the will and ways of God, revealed especially and particularly in the Covenant.  And third, to repent (look at life in God’s way, not the way of empire) so the people could move into the future restored and hopeful.

The prophets show that God’s “I AM” presence is for the purpose of transformation.  Genesis 3 (original sin) is not the defining reality or the final word.  God is at work here and now to renew, restore, and reform.  Running through every prophet is the message, “You do not have live below par; God is willing and able to give you new life, individually and collectively.”  It is summarized in the word ‘shalom’–wellness and wholeness in every area of life.

Tbrough the prophets we are reminded that God is at work moment-by-moment to lead us from darkness into light, from death into life.

[1] The 2017 Oboedire theme was “The Prophetic Task”–a series that used the writings of Walter Brueggemann to explore the prophetic tradition in Scripture and selected means and ministries for living it in the church and world today.  If you did not follow Oboedire back then, it is archived on the righthand “Categories” sidebar on the Oboedire home page.

Posted in Here and Now

Here and Now: Ever-Present Shepherd

For many people, the 23rd psalm is the high-water mark in the Old Testament.  Its esteem is warranted for many reasons.  But one is that it roots life in the present moment.  The verbs are present tense.  David’s experience of God is not a nostalgic looking back or a hoped-for gaze into the future; it is a here-and-now reality.

“The Lord is my shepherd”–this is the basis of living in the present moment.  Emmanuel. “God with us.”  The with-God life is life with God here and now because God is present and active in our current reality. [1]  David illustrated it via these verbs: makes, leads, restores, accompanies (“you are with me”), comforts, prepares, anoints, and overflows–all experiences in the present moment.

Of course, this gives rise to confidence and hope, as David affirmed at the end of the psalm, with one translation of the last verse being, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” (23:6 NRSV). [2] David’s experience of God was so complete that he could not imagine a single moment of his life when God would not be with him.

We have already seen many Bible passages where here-and-now life is revealed, and we will see many more as this series unfolds.  But it is a blessing to see it in this most-beloved psalm.  We are guided by the ever-present Shepherd.

[1] The Renovaré spiritual formation ministry has made the with-God life its paradigm for the Christian spiritual life.  The ‘Life With God Bible’ (HarperOne, 2005) is the main resource for teaching this.  An accompanying book is Richard Foster’s and Kathryn Helmer’s ‘Life With God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation’ (HarperOne, 2008). I highly recommend the Renovaré ministry, both with respect to this paradigm and the resources the ministry has for forming the with-God life in us.

[2] The Hebrew literally means “for length of days,” leading to the translation above, and to other translations where “forever” is used instead.  The phrase is time neutral, showing that our experience of God is all the time, on earth or in heaven.

Posted in Here and Now