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The Great, Eternal 'Now'

The Secret of Living on 'God's Time'

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Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is a-flying,
And that same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be a-dying.
— Robert Herrick, "To the Virgins, Make Much of Time"

This tax season, I made my annual pilgrimage to see my accountant. Normally, this sort of business ranks just above having root canal surgery and just below contracting athlete's foot. However, it's not like that with Timmy and me.

Timmy's been my accountant since 1981. His honesty and good nature, to say nothing of his skill, have kept me returning to his numeric expertise.

I love the clock on his wall. It's not a fancy timepiece. It has a jet-black face and no numerals, the two white hands frozen at 10:10. As long as I've known Timmy, the clock has been perpetually stuck in the identical rhyme of "ten-ten." At least it's correct two times a day.

To top it off, Timmy doesn't wear a watch. When you visit his office, you leave time outside, the way you would take off your muddy boots before entering someone's home.

Why does he treat time this way? He instinctively realizes that while you need time to perform your deeds, you don't need the measurement of it. In doing so, he has happened upon a great spiritual secret: how to live more in the present moment.

All we have is 'now'
Seasons change and people grow old, but the present moment is always before us. There was never a time, never is a time, and never will be a time when that isn't true. "Now" is omnipresent. Sounds a little like we're describing God, doesn't it?

Well, we are.

So many of us, however, are slaves to the clock, and once you put time on the clock, "now" disappears. You then begin to experience life either in terms of time gone by or time yet to come. Chronologically, you find yourself nowhere in no time.

Outside of the present moment, religion tends to fossilize into dusty bromides that put people to sleep and seem to have no relevance. Outside the present moment, where most of us live, work, and play, today gets reduced to something as mediocre as a stale donut.

On the other hand, life in the sacredness of the present moment turns today into an endlessly available opportunity for goodness, which thrives in the ever-present "now." In the present moment, today becomes a spiritual powerhouse where religion remains fresh and supple, full of the vibrant wisdom that leads us to our salvations.

How important is this point? Open St. Faustina's Diary and you find it on the first page:

When I look into the future, I am frightened,
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me,
As the future may never enter my soul at all.

It is no longer in my power,
To change, correct or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so, what the past has embraced I must trust to God.

O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire" (Diary, 2).

Man, 'a mere phantom'
Jesus has much to say about time. Frequently, He advises us to be alert and stay awake. You can't stay awake in the past or be alert in the future. They don't exist. You can only stay awake "now," the only moment there is. Consider Jesus' teaching about worry.

"Therefore," Jesus says, "do not be anxious, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ... your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious for tomorrow; tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day" (Mt 6:31-34).

In Isaiah, we read:

Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Is 43:18-19).

The Psalms, too, repeatedly refer to God's time:

Behold, You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before You.
Each man's life is but a breath.
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro;
He bustles about, but only in vain;
He heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it (Ps 39:6-7).

God's time is now and now only, something not obvious to man, "a mere phantom."

How long is a minute?
The Benedictine monks invented the mechanical clock in the 12th century for the purpose of calling everyone to prayer at the same moment. With seven prayer periods each day, they greeted this new device as a blessing.

Little did they know they would also create an arbitrary fourth dimension that would lay the foundation for all the secular world holds holy: wealth, position, prestige, and power, none of which would be possible without mechanical time. Synchronization also would provide the means to control people. Without clocks, for example, modern economies would be impossible, since the arrivals and leavings of workers as well as the shipment of goods and services has to be precisely coordinated.

Mechanical time is always local, as in the different time zones. On the other hand, the fabric of time itself, without clocks, is actually not time at all but a timelessness that's the same everywhere. That's where spirituality belongs.

Question: How do we get there?

Answer: We get off the clock.

We build into our day moments where we aren't being constantly hounded by the seconds ticking away. For if we insist on a strictly human accounting of time, we lose control of it. Worse, it begins to control us.

There's a scene in a Graham Greene novel. A man is about to be executed at the firing squad. A priest tries to comfort him, saying, "Don't worry, my son. It will be over in a minute."

"Yes, Father," the man replies, "but how long is a minute"?

How can we lessen the effect of the "tick-tock"? Here are five practical tips most anyone can do to help get off the clock.

Practical Tip #1 — Cultivate Silence
This suggestion comes from the saints and mystics, who made God their business. In her Diary, St. Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy, reveals an intimate understanding of silence, as in this example:

Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. A talkative soul will never attain sanctity. The sword of silence will cut off everything that would like to cling to the soul. We are sensitive to words and quickly want to answer back, without taking any regard as to whether it is God's will that we should speak. A silent soul is strong; no adversities will harm it if it perseveres in silence. The silent soul is capable of attaining the closest union with God. It lives always under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God works in a silent soul without hindrance (477).

Also consider these two entries, written during a retreat:

Profound silence engulfs my soul. Not a single cloud hides the sun from me. I lay myself entirely open to its rays, that His love may effect a complete transformation in me. I want to come out of this retreat a saint, and this, in spite of everything; that is to say, in spite of my wretchedness (1333).

In this profound silence, I am better able to judge the condition of my soul. My soul is like clear water in which I can see everything: both my misery and the vastness of God's graces (1336).

The Diary is loaded with similar revelations about the importance of silence in accessing the present moment, where God is present in an undeniable way.

Practical Tip #2 — Cultivate Solitude
Schedule time alone with yourself. Solitude, what one writer called the great omission of American life, invites withdrawal from the pressures of daily life and cultivates a healthy abandonment to God.

Going for a walk in the woods, for example, brings you into the midst of natural creation. Your silence is "broken" only by the communication with trees, the murmuring of a brook, the sound of the wind, the presence of animals, the fragrance of flowers, and the other ways in which God manifests Himself in small, ordinary guises.

Practical Tip #3 — Use Technology Intelligently
Don't clutter your life with a slavish dependence on cell phones, computers, video games, iPods, blackberries, e-mail, text-messaging, the Internet, and the like.

True, judicious use of these tools can improve the quality of life, but who in the high-tech tidal wave washing over the world is showing that kind of discipline? Using a laptop to do your job is one thing. Using it to addictively gamble on-line is another. Dialing a cell phone after your car breaks down is one thing. Calling a friend to exchange vicious gossip is another.

These high-tech diversions imprison you in man-made time. All of a sudden, there aren't enough hours in a day. Sadly, you start spending "quality time" with your family, speeding behind the wheel, working nonstop, and getting impossibly impatient.

That's the time to make adjustments. Cut back on the unnecessary use of technology. It's easier than you think.

Practical Tip #4 — Practice Passive Surrender
Much has been written about this seemingly counterintuitive method of submitting to our obligations. From my experience, this practice works best in the spiritual state I most often find myself in, where I do not know the will of God. My guess is that most of us exist in this cloudy state.

Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a Jesuit who in the early 18th century authored the spiritual classic Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, writes:

... obedience to God's undefined will depends entirely on our passive surrender to it. We put nothing of ourselves into it apart from a general willingness that it is prepared to do anything or nothing, like a tool that has no power in itself, when in the hands of the craftsman, can be used for any purpose within the range of its capacity and design.

... And so we leave God to act in everything, reserving for ourselves only love and obedience to the present moment (my italics).

To the extent that you can, let go and place things in God's hand, what Jesus through St. Faustina calls trust.

Practical Tip #5 — Cool Your Emotions
Everything that comes up in the ordinary course of a day has an appropriate emotion for our response. When we are sad, we need to cry. When happy, we need to laugh.

Appropriate emotions are like the plastic gloves a nurse puts on when she draws your blood. They're great for that one task, but after it's done, the gloves get tossed in the medical waste bin. Similarly, let feelings do their immediate job then "take them off."

Human emotions are notoriously unreliable. If we allow them to dominate our lives, we'll find ourselves on a roller coaster ride filled with stomach-churning ups and down. You'll be so mentally exhausted and spiritually nauseous you won't go near the quest for holiness to which you are called. Plus, after the ride ends, you'll find yourself back in the same place you started.

Under these conditions, your spirituality will likely be counterfeit, a kind of mediocre, self-righteous, paint-by-the-numbers religion that dampens so much of parish life in the b-u-s-y United States.

Father de Caussade writes, "It is necessary to be disengaged from all we feel and do in order to walk with God in the duty of the present moment" (my italics).

A little story will illustrate the point. There was once a missionary priest who lost everything in a fire that consumed his hut. As the villagers tried in vain to put out the blaze, the priest stood by, cheerfully serving refreshments to the workers.

"Father," one of them asked, "how can you be so calm and cheerful? You're losing everything you possess."

"It's easy," he replied with a smile. "God is teaching me detachment."

All the time we'll ever need
To live more completely in the "now" lies within your grasp. Please believe that.

You don't have to be a Spiritual Giant. It doesn't require heroics. It takes an honest decision to do it and the perseverance to endure. In entering the present moment, your reach will not exceed your grasp in the same way that a deepening faith will never outstrip one's capacity to believe, even when things go bad.

No matter what happens, God's love will always be there, "now."

"For I am sure," St. Paul writes, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39).

Dan Valenti is senior editor/writer for Marian Helper magazine and numerous other publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

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Whaat an Easter gift! - Apr 6, 2007

Dan, What an Easter Gift! Thank you for The Great, Eternal "now". A magnificent peice: weaving scripture and the wisdom of saints and saintly lay people to manefest how to become intimate with God's great everlasting love....in the moment!