Learn to see each day and hour, even every minute, as a new beginning – a unique opportunity to make everything new. There are two voices whispering to us. The voice of the past insists that everything will be just the same – dull, boring, and difficult. There is, however, another voice which says: “My name is ‘God-with-you’ and I have a gift for you. I can’t wait for you to see it!” This is the voice we need to tune into and every time we do, we’ll discover a little more of the new life hidden in the moment, waiting eagerly to be born.
Living in the present is hard – we are constantly harassed by guilt from the past and worries about the future. Negative feelings about past events whisper that we ought to have done this or that differently. We worry about the ifs of the future – what if such and such happens. The oughts drag us back into the unalterable past, and the ifs pull us forward into the unpredictable future. Real life, however, takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present and is always in the moment – both the joyful and the painful moments. Jesus came to the earth to show how to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries for the future. By minimising the “oughts” and the “ifs” we can recognise the beauties of life around us and be grateful.
Birthdays can be a special celebration of life and the present. We can say to the person: “Thank you for being you, for being born and being among us.” It is an opportunity for expressing love. No matter what has happened in the previous year, each year can be like a new beginning – starting with a clean slate on our life’s journey. Birthdays remind us of the goodness of life and in a way we should celebrate people’s birthdays every day by showing kindness, gentleness, and affection. It is a way of expressing gratitude for the day that God has made for us to be together with our loved ones.
Prayer is a discipline of the moment. We thereby enter the presence of “God-with-us” who speaks to us here and now. When we dare to trust that we are never alone, but that God is always with us and cares for us, we can gradually detach from the voices that make us feel guilty or anxious and allow ourselves to dwell in the present. Trusting God is not easy as we often have wrong ideas about God rather than seeing God as a lover who yearns to give us what our hearts most desire. To pray is to listen to that voice of love. This is closely related to obedience (in Latin and other languages, the two words have a common root). Without listening we become “deaf” to the voice of love and our life is thrown back and forth between the past and the future. Praying enables us to be, even for a few minutes each day, fully in the present and to discover that we are not alone, with the One who is with us and eager to only give us love.
To hear that voice of love means we need to fully direct our hearts and minds to it. What can help to still the constantly running thoughts of our minds is to meditate using a mantra. This means taking a simple prayer, a sentence, or a word that reminds us of God’s love and slowly repeating it. It is like putting a candle in the centre of our dark inner room. Despite distractions of the mind, as long as the candle is burning, we can always return to that light and perceive the presence of the divine. Meditation is not always a satisfying experience because of the restlessness of our minds. If however we can remain faithful to the discipline for even just ten minutes a day, we’ll gradually come to see – by the candlelight of our prayers – that there is a space within us where God’s Love dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God. Once we come to know that holy and beautiful inner place, we’ll want to be there and be spiritually fed.
In prayer, we’ll discover that coming closer to God also means coming closer to all our brothers and sisters in the human family. Prayer enables us to increasingly experience ourselves as part of a human family bound by God who created us all to share in the divine light. When we pray for others, we acknowledge, in the presence of God, that we belong to each other as children of the same God. We are brothers and sisters, not competitors or rivals. Intimacy with God and solidarity with all people are two aspects of dwelling in the present that can never be separated.
An old wagon wheel, sometimes used for decoration, can help us understand the importance of a life lived from the centre. From the hub, all the spokes can be touched at once. To pray is to move to the centre of all life and all love. The closer we come to the hub of life, the closer we find ourselves to all that receives its strength and energy from there. The hub can be seen as our own heart and the heart of God. In prayer, we enter our own heart and find there the heart of God speaking to us of love.
The above series of reflections is based on Henri Nouwen’s book, Here and Now, Living in the Spirit (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1994), 3-10.
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