by Pastor Doug Kings
I have mentioned Steven Charleston several times before. He is an author, Native American elder, former Luther Seminary professor, and retired Episcopal bishop. In retirement, he authors a popular daily devotional distributed on Facebook (where he has nearly thirty thousand followers). I find him to have deep understanding of the culture and of people’s needs, especially during the pandemic.
Charleston’s post this past Monday was especially aware and relevant, I thought, and I share it here in its entirety:
What comes next I do not know, which is why knowing what comes now is so helpful. What comes now is the presence of the Spirit. That presence always resides in the immediate. It enters into time and space, becoming tangible, communicating directly, nourishing everything it touches. The now is infused with the Spirit, electric with the energy of the holy. In this moment, this exact moment, we can be aware of the Spirit’s presence, working with us to shape our reality. We may not know what is to come, but we can be confident in knowing what is here, right now, beside us. It is the power of the eternal Spirit.
If there has been any lesson to learn from this pandemic, it is that our future is neither knowable nor controllable. But oh, how we have tried to achieve both those things. From its start, there has been a constant parade of experts forecasting how the pandemic will play out and finally end. None have been accurate and today we still don’t know.
Humans have long wanted to be able to predict the future. Soothsayers and astrologers go way back. One of the earliest in the Bible was the patriarch Joseph, who became the pharaoh’s top aide by interpreting his dreams. It’s also the main theme, of course, of the books of the prophets. In that case, however, the prophets’ real gift was interpreting the present and recognizing the dire consequences that would result from Israel’s foolishness and greed.
Overall, however, the Bible tends to take a dim view of the human desire to know what’s coming next. For one thing, the Bible really does take human freedom seriously, so the future isn’t already set. Even more importantly, it recognizes that the more we obsess about what might be coming, the less we are doing what is most important, which is to live in the here and now. One of Jesus’ most well known teachings from the Sermon on the Mount addresses this.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?… So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Notice that Jesus isn’t being pollyannish here. He isn’t saying, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Everything will be fine.” Rather, he is telling us to deal with what’s right in front of us and don’t obsess about what may or may not be coming around the corner. Like the birds or the flowers, simply enjoying the bounty of God’s creation, live in the now. Or as AA teaches, just take one day at a time.
And as Steven Charleston says, it is only in the present that we will experience God’s presence in the Spirit. This is one of the main purposes of the practice of contemplation or Christian meditation. By learning to look past the constant rush of thoughts, which are mostly about what has happened (the past) or what might happen (the future), we discover what it means to actually be here, now, which is where God always is.
Living in the present is also remarkably freeing because now you can be who you are and do what you have been made to do. You can simply live, which is the greatest gift God has given us. Each day has its challenges. Like the birds, we need look for our food in one way or another. But like the lilies blessing the creation, we also can simply enjoy being what God has made us to be.
If we’re always looking down the road, however, with frustration or anxiety, then we miss that life and God’s love are always here in front of us. For all God’s creatures, right here, right now is the only place to be.
Blessings in your life and ministry.