People often talk these days about the power of NOW.
Among many unsettling moments at Theological College was the time when one of our lecturers, who liked to provoke both Catholics and Evangelicals (not to mention Liberals) was discussing with us ‘the sacrament of the present moment’.
Various people were nodding sagely and thinking ‘Oh yes, I know what that means and what is more, I practise it daily – it is most definitely part of my (sophisticated, enlightened) spirituality…’
And then he looked mischievously around and said (in his inimitable Irish lilt) ‘Of course, there’s no such thing as the present moment…’
This was the same lecturer who had also thrown cold water on the idea you can count up sacraments (2, 7?) with a lecture/bible study on how St Jerome translated the Greek word, ‘mysterion’, as ‘sacrament’ (e.g. Colossians 2:2-3) but it really meant ‘mystery’. What was this mystery, hidden through the ages, and now revealed? Jesus Christ, of course: the (one and only) ‘sacrament’ of God.
So, no ‘present moment’, and possibly a bit of doubt about ‘sacramental’…Shock! Horror! No such thing, then, as the sacrament of the present moment, a revelation of the divine right here, right now…?
I can see how ‘the present moment’, and its possible spiritual opportunity, could become a ‘thing’, though. The idea would be that you slow down, think about what is around you – the sights and sounds and smells, and become aware. Present. You stop rushing, stop ‘doing’ and just ‘be’. Feel the earth beneath your feet, hear the wind in the trees. Be grateful, know God’s presence in the here and now. That sort of thing.
I am generally no good at it, being naturally somewhat cerebral, impatient and an activist. On the Myers Briggs Personality Types (MBTI) weekend, in the middle of one session we had to go outside into the grounds for 20 minutes and note what occurred.
All I could remember was feeling bored, then impatient to get back inside and finish. Other people returned to describe in detail the intricate pattern on the brickwork and fifteen different species of bird they had spotted.
But the idea of being more available to the present, practising mindfulness, and what might happen if I did, still lingers.
Not generally one for resolutions, I decided recently I was going to have three – make sermons funnier; keep the house cleaner and practise being in the present moment more. The first two haven’t been going that well, and in the light of the above, I’m wondering if I ought to abandon the third as well.
Then I stumbled upon a book, This is Happening. It’s a collection of moments captured on camera for the social media site, Instagram. The blurb says ‘Ever get that this-is-happening-feeling? The one when you notice something so beautiful, strange or wonderful that you can’t quite believe you get to capture it?’ The photos are as varied as life itself: a Ferris wheel; a freshly dug turnip; a picnic rug. I’m hoping to use it in some way during prayer times…Still photography as an aid to contemplation…?
It made me think. Mathematically there may well be no such thing as the present moment (looking forward to the moment makes it the future; as soon as you’ve had the moment, it’s the past). However, there might be something in being attentive to the moments (plural) you are in.
Noticing. Listening. Breathing. Being grateful. And God might be there.