So beautiful is the still hour of the sea’s withdrawal, as beautiful as the sea’s return when encroaching waves pound up the beach, pressing to reach those dark rumpled chains of seaweed which mark the last high tide.
We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanence, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth and fluidity–in freedom in the sense that dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern. The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.
Today’s reading from Celtic Daily Prayer suggests a problem many of us struggle with in our spiritual lives: the gravitational pull of the past and present which distracts us from the current movement of the Spirit. I wonder if that’s not, in part, what Jesus had in mind when he said, “[I]f I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you.” John 16:7. As long as Jesus remained physically with the apostles, they were trapped in the memory of their failures or lost in their Messianic expectations for the future. God had something quite different in store for them.
The past and the future bind us in a kind of Pushmi-pullyu struggle. We hear this in our churches regularly. “I really liked the music before they changed it” or “I’m really worried about the direction our new minister is moving the church.” I think we do something similar in our own lives. “I was not brought up in a home where reading the Bible was important so that’s just not a big part of my spiritual life.” “Maybe once the kids are gone we will go to church more regularly.” We feel the gravitational pull of the past and the present, sometimes longingly, sometimes full of anxiety, but always distracting us from the present moment.
Sometimes, we encounter the diversion of longing for a time when we felt really close to God, or when church offered a more meaningful experience. In Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis compared this to shouting “Encore!” to God. We tell the Almighty things were better before, and want Him to make it like it used to be. Lewis wrote, “It would be rash to say that there is any prayer which God never grants. But the strongest candidate is the prayer we might express in the single word encore. And how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.”
Whether we find ourselves diverted by the past or the future, we confront the difficulty of locating God (and ourselves) in the present moment. The movement away from the immediate always assumes that God’s presence today will not suffice. We go chasing after a richer yesterday or running away from a distressing tomorrow, and run the risk of overlooking the presence of the Spirit today. Perhaps we undervalue the advice of the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.”
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis
It is good to be reminded about the “presence of the Spirit today.” Thank you.
You are most welcome, Elizabeth.
God’s great peace on you and your house,
This still hours is the first thing to drop off when life gets busy… and it should be the last. Thanks for a thoughtful post, James.
Yes, we need the Spirit of the present moment, although we resist it, like a child might struggle against a well-needed nap.
God watch over thee and me,
This one I print out and save to read again and again. Marjorie
I’m glad you liked it. Hope all’s well with you.
In the early 80’s my family was stationed in Hawaii for four years. There is a spot on a beach on the island of Oahu that has been my “place to go” in my mind when I need to feel safe and at peace. That was the place I first encountered the whispers of God, though I don’t believe I recognized it as such at the time. When I struggle to settle myself today, I still mentally go back to that place and listen to the waves and the gulls. I am as aware as I can ever be of God when I am able to envision myself at rest in his arms on that beach. The reminder of the psalm, “Be still and know that I am God,” is my mantra at those times. Today is a day I needed that reminder, Br. James. Thank you.
I’m glad you have such a place you can go. Many folks do not, and for them life must offer a great challenge. Glad it was there for you today.
God watch over thee and me,
A perfect post! it spoke to me, I am listening! Thank you!! Linda
Dear Brother James,
What a challenge… to value the ebb of the tide as much as its flow, or perhaps to accept both together, relishing each moment for what it contributes to the whole. God grant that we might live such a life!
It is a great challenge, but I think God might well grant us such lives.
Grace to you and peace,
I love this post….now!
My dear Sister Constantina,
Now is the perfect time to do so.
Pax et bonum,
“Whether we find ourselves diverted by the past or the future, we confront the difficulty of locating God (and ourselves) in the present moment. The movement away from the immediate always assumes that God’s presence today will not suffice. We go chasing after a richer yesterday or running away from a distressing tomorrow, and run the risk of overlooking the presence of the Spirit today.” — Amen, Brother James; amen! Thanks for this. Carley
Amen, Carley, Amen.
Peace on you and your house,
Thank you, Brother James.
As always, you are most welcome.
Grace and peace,
A reminder that each moment has holy potential. We must enter into it with a quiet mind and expectant soul. Thank you for this beautifully written piece.
With great affection, Lera
The holy potential of each moment offers us a glimpse into the Kingdom, where the Presence surrounds us on all sides, at all times. And you’re most welcome.
I like it, the gravitational pull of past and present..
The Lord bless you my brother
Life is evolution and transformation. Our universe is in constant motion . . . but it is always in motion during the present moment. The stillness for me comes in that perfect moment when I realize all of who and what I have been is here with me now and me now is creating my tomorrow . . . I just need to take care of this moment.
I think that’s just so. Tending to this present moment is challenge enough.
Br James, thanks for a lovely thoughtful post. Sometimes in our liturgies and even in personal prayer we probably try to do too much! Being still in this very moment is prayer. How else can we hear God? The scripture says “speak Lord, your servant is listening”, not the other way around!
I think that’s exactly right. I am constantly challenged by that verse: “Be still and know that I am God.” It calls us into a deeper, more holy presence. Many thanks for your thoughts,
And with your thoughts, I begin this day, looking forward only to the moment at hand. Thanks for the gentle, yet confident reminder.
I hope we can all begin our days thus. Thank you, as always, for your support and encouragement.
God watch over thee and me,