The present moment is all we have.
The past is gone, and unless someone invents a time machine, it is gone forever.
The future is yet to be.
So this present moment is really all we have.
Practising the presence of God is all about this. It is about finding God in the present, in the eternal now: Trying to find that still point where you can experience the presence of God – something that is only possible in this present moment.
I’m sure we’re all aware of the gift of someone’s presence. There is nothing so frustrating as having a conversation with someone who is visibly distracted. Yet the gift of full presence, the gift of someone’s full attention, is just that – a gift and a precious one. We all know what it feels like to have received someone’s full attention, what it feels like to be really listened to and it is a blessing.
God is present, and we can learn to be still and present to the presence of God.
Meditation, and in particular the benefits of mindfulness meditation have been in the news a lot lately.
Mindfulness can reportedly cure anxiety, lower blood pressure and promote better sleep. And, according to Lizzie Widdicombe, who experimented with mindfulness meditation when writing for the The New Yorker, “Like travel, the chief boon of meditation might be the way that it throws the place you came from into relief. I’d never noticed what an incredible racket was going on in my mind: to-do lists, scraps of conversations, ancient memories…As calm set in, I’d occasionally achieve a few seconds of relaxed concentration, the meditative grail, which felt as if I were walking on a balance beam.”
Stripped down to its essence, mindfulness meditation “is being aware of what is inside and around us in the present moment,” says Elli Weisbaum, a mindfulness teacher and a co-founder of Partners in Mindfulness. “Our mind can time travel into the future or the past—and we are doing that constantly. A goal of meditation is having our mind completely resting in the here and now.”
The thing that I’ve found is that our mind conspires against us, forever pulling us back into the past with regrets or into the future with worry. I wonder if this was what Jesus was talking about when he said:
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
So live in the present.
Although ‘mindfulness’ is usually associated with more eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular, I am keen that this should not deter Christians from finding the immense value it brings. Monastic Christianity has long had a tradition of meditation or ‘centring prayer’ as it is sometimes known.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
God it seems is ‘mindful’ of us.
Centring Prayer or Christian Meditation, like mindfulness, often begins with calling your attention to your breathing.
By focusing solely on your breathing for small chunks of time—things like the sound and feeling of air filling your lungs and flowing out of your nostrils—you are drawing your attention back into the present moment – back to God’s presence.
When thoughts arise during this practice of focusing on breathing, you are not ignoring them. Instead, you are acknowledging those thoughts and releasing from them by returning to your breathing.
I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for Spirit is the same word as for breath – Ruach.
From a Christian perspective we are calling our attention back on the Spirit of God who is the very breath that sustains us moment by moment.
And interestingly this isn’t a practice that can only be done sitting cross legged on the floor, with a lighted scented candle.
I’m a keen endurance athlete. Endurance sports involve a lot of time spent focussing on breathing. Some of my most profound experiences of the presence of God have been while swimming, cycling or running. Calling my attention back to my breath, back to the Spirit of God, lifting my head up and observing the beauty of my surroundings, becoming aware of God’s presence with me, step after step, pedal stroke after pedal stroke.
If hours of running aren’t for you, you can practice this on a crowded commuter train early in the morning or in a few minutes through the day while you take a break from the day’s chores.
Draw your attention to your breath.
Breathe in God’s Spirit, breathe deeply.
Breathe out the stress and worry of the day.
Feel the cool air in your nostrils.
As your mind wanders back to the day’s tasks or yesterday’s mistakes (which it will), acknowledge the thought, then park it and return to the present moment.
In truth this present moment is all we have, and it is where we find God.
As always, I’m very happy to chat about this or any other Spiritual disciplines you may find helpful – please get in touch and we can find a time to chat and pray together.
Photo: Paul Sanders (thanks Paul)
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.