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