I can spend much of my time caught up in reliving past regrets or worried about future challenges. I may be so busy replaying a conversation in my head that I miss the conversation with the person in front of me. I may be so busy wondering if I locked the door when I left the house that I miss the door in front of me. I may be so busy rehearsing a future conversation or presentation that I am absent to the people around me. As I spend this time in the future or the past, I miss out on the present.
As I speak with people and as I read across a variety of spiritual traditions, I realize that I am not alone. To live attentive to the present moment, is a great challenge to many if not most of us. The present moment is in fact a present from God. Regret and worry try to steal this present from us and prevent us from enjoying what God has for us in this moment.
While there is much good in setting aside time for planning and time for reflection, there is also much to be said for encountering God in the present moment. When I find that I am absent from the present moment or when I seek to be intentionally more present, I look to the instruction spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.
This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
- Jeremiah 6:16
The first instruction is to simply stand. This reminds me to cease the movement of my body and still the racing of my mind so that I can notice the present, the crossroads where my temporal life is meeting the eternal will of God. It may even be useful to consider the crossroads or thresholds within daily life that invite us to stop and notice the present. It may be walking through the door of our house either going to work or returning from work. It may be taking a moment when we start the car or when we sit down. For some of us who go from meeting to meeting or task to task, it may mean finding some reminder of transition that brings our attention back to the present moment.
The next instruction is to look. Once we are still, we are able to experience the present moment with our senses, to notice what we see, hear, feel, taste, or smell. After noticing our senses, we may also look inside ourselves and notice our emotions and desires, our hopes and fears. We can also look to the people around us. I often find myself in my busyness seeing the people around me as challenges or tasks. I find myself looking with an assessment of friend or foe, good or bad. I know that I am particularly rushed or stresses when the people around me become mere obstacles to my own selfish agenda. However, when I stand and look, I begin to see the humanity of those around me.
We are instructed next to ask, to ask for the ancient paths and the way that is good. As we pause to stand and look so that we notice ourselves and others, we are invited to prayerfully ask to see where God is at work, to know the ancient paths by which we are invited to walk with God in our daily lives. We ask to be aware of God’s work already around us and to ask how we are to respond in the way that is good. I find that the disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading, particularly the Daily Office, help me to recognize the ancient paths more readily as the Spirit reveals them.
The final instruction is to walk in those ways that God reveals to us in the present moment. Often times, I want to see God’s plan in all of its detail and especially the big things that God needs me to accomplish for Him. The present moment trains me to participate and rejoice in the small graces into which God invites me. As St Theresa of Calcutta describes, we do small things with great love as we participate with God in the present moment.
The present moment is the place where we can find peace for our souls as we encounter the Living God at the crossroad where temporal meets eternal. Unfortunately, one of the saddest comments in all of Scripture follows this instruction, “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”