Finding God in the present
There is at the moment, as we are all well aware, a recession on, maybe a depression, some say the worse since the Second World War, some say the worst since the Great Depression of the nineteen thirties, some say the worst for a century… Every time I open the newspaper or turn on the news or go on-line I am greeted with yet more bad economic news and predictions of doom and gloom. Will we able to earn any money in this recession? How long could it last – just how many years could it go on for? What about any savings if there’s a banking collapse? How will we pay the rent or the mortgage? How will we buy food or clothes?
And that’s just the secular news services – if you turn to certain Christian channels you can be greeted with predictions of an imminent one-world financial system ruled by the antichrist wherein only those who have received the mark of the beast or antichrist will be able to buy or sell… What if this financial meltdown heralds the rise of the antichrist and we Christians can’t buy or sell, how will we get food to eat and clothes to wear?
“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matthew 6:25-31) Thus the Gospel passage you have just heard – and from the Gospel from last night’s Vespers: “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.” (Matthew 6:34)
Some have criticised and rejected these words of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ as a ‘counsel of perfection’, impractical, even impossible in the real day-to-day world. They have dismissed these words as Oriental mysticism. They argue that we must plan, we must prepare for the future… When these words from the Sermon on the Mount were translated into English in the times of King James “take no thought” meant “take no anxious thought”, don’t get all anxious about it – don’t worry. Do not worry “for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor…what ye shall put on…”
We are not to spend our time worrying and fretting about how long the recession’s going to last or how we’re going to manage through it, especially if it continues for years or gets even worse and worse… Hear the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman from his famous hymn Lead, kindly Light:
“Lead, kindly Light…
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me…”
Or try these words from the philosopher Thomas Carlyle: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”
Try the theologian Jeremy Taylor: “This day only is ours, we are dead to yesterday, and we are not yet born to the morrow. But if we look abroad and bring into one day’s thoughts the evil of many, certain and uncertain, what will be and what will never be, our load will be as intolerable as it is unreasonable.”
Or the Christian writer George MacDonald: “Care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for the morrow, or for a day in the next thousand years – in neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything.”
Consider the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson words:
“Some of your griefs you have cured
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of pain you endured
From evils that never arrived.”
Or Cardinal Manning: “Neither go back in fear and misgiving to the past, nor in anxiety and forecasting to the future; but lie quiet under His hand, having no will but His.”
For it’s not just worry about the future we get caught up in – we worry about the past: if only I’d done that instead of something else, if only I’d said this and not that… we replay events over and over sometimes, dwelling on or even in the past – and not in a productive way, learning lessons from our mistakes but caught up in regret and feeling sorry for ourselves. Repentance is one thing but remorse and regret is another. “Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it: it is only good for wallowing in.” (Katherine Masefield)
“Remember Now. Be Here Now
As it’s not like it was before
The past was. Be Here Now.
As it’s not like it was before – it was
Why try to live a life
That isn’t real,
A mind that wants to wander,
‘round a corner,
is an un-wise mind.
Now, Is. Be Here Now
and it’s not like it was before.
Remember, Now. Be Here Now
as i’ts not like it was before – it was.”
Let us turn now to some words from today’s Pauline Epistle: “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” (Romans 13:11)
“To repent is to wake up… watchfulness. The Greek term used here, nepsis, means literally sobriety and watchfulness – the opposite of drugged or alcoholic stupor; and so in the context of the spiritual life it signifies attentiveness, vigilance, recollection… The “neptic” man…does not day-dream, drifting aimlessly under the influence of passing impulses, but…possesses a sense of direction and purpose. As The Gospel of Truth (mid-second century) expresses it, “He is like one who awakens from drunkenness, returning to himself…He knows where he has come from and where he is going.”
“Watchfulness means, among other things, to be present where we are – at this specific point in space, at this particular moment in time. All too often we are scattered and dispersed; we are living, not with alertness in the present, but with nostalgia in the past, or with misgiving and wishful thinking in the future. While we are indeed required responsibly to plan for the future – for watchfulness is the opposite of fecklessness – we are to think about the future only as far as it depends upon the present moment. Anxiety over remote possibilities which lie altogether beyond our immediate control is sheer waste of our spiritual energies.
“The “neptic” man is gathered into the here and the now… God, so C.S.Lewis remarks in The Screwtape Letters, wants men to attend chiefly to two things: “to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it alone, humans have an experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it freedom and actuality are offered them.” As Meister Eckhart teaches, “He who abides always in a present now, in him does God beget his Son without ceasing.”
“The “neptic” man is the one who understands this “sacrament of the present moment”, and who tries to live by it. He says to himself in the words of Paul Evdokimov: “The hour through which you are at present passing, the man who you meet here and now, the task on which you are engaged this very moment – these are always the most important in your whole life.” Thus the Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware (The Orthodox Way)
This Lent I plan to preach a series of sermons about finding God – and I start today by telling you that you will find God not in wish fulfilment and day-dreaming or in worry and anxious foreboding for the future, neither in nostalgia or remorse or bitterness for the past but in the present, in the here and now.
You may think this is simplicity itself, you may be tempted to think this is all so simple that it is a waste of a sermon to expound this – and I certainly do not deny that this is simple to preach… but is it simplicity itself to always put it into practice? Remember the Matins Gospel this morning in which our Lord contrasts the wise man who hears His words and does them with the foolish man who hears His words and does them not. To preach that we are to be present, in the here and now at the same time as preaching something simple is to preach something profound.
I repeat these words from Bishop Kallistos Ware and from Father Paul Evdokimov:
“Watchfulness means, among other things, to be present where we are – at this specific point in space, at this particular moment in time. All too often we are scattered and dispersed; we are living, not with alertness in the present, but with nostalgia in the past, or with misgiving and wishful thinking in the future…Anxiety over remote possibilities which lie altogether beyond our immediate control is sheer waste of our spiritual energies.” Be “gathered into the here and the now…”
“The hour through which you are at present passing, the man who you meet here and now, the task on which you are engaged this very moment – these are always the most important in your whole life.”
If you would find God in your life you will find Him here and now and always and only here and now… not in some muddled confusion and fog of worry lost in the future, neither in regret and playing it over and over again from the past… but here and now. Resist the temptation to lose yourself in either past or future but to be where you are, to be right where you are: this is where you will find God…
“God is always present and waiting to be discovered now, in the present moment, precisely where we are and in what we are doing.” (Harry A. Williams, priest)
Father Simon Smyth