Monday, February 3, 2014

Reflections on Presence

I wonder if it is debatable what wilderness Jesus spent that time of temptation in. I have seen photos of the arid rolling hills where scholars reckon Christ wandered during those 40 days and 40 nights of hungry temptation. I have a different conception about it. I like to think that Jesus went into the city. Scripture says he was living among the “wild beasts and taken care of by the angels”. Aren’t our cities and our daily lives full of wild animals, distracting and indulgent while still offering experiences dotted with angels who serve and give even when they only have their time to share? Aren’t we also both of those things ourselves? Isn’t our daily walk filled with lifetimes of temptation and wouldn’t Christ encounter more reason to use his power for show or for selfish gain among the devils that live in each of us? As a human being, I think he had to live in the world in order to conquer that human desire over his almighty gifts. Not to mention, how did he get to the top of the temple when Satan suggested he throw himself off of it? Makes more sense to me that he was already nearby.

This idea has been a powerful theme in my own faith journey. We are actually living in the wilderness. Jesus intentionally fasted during that time because fasting is a way to cling to God in our daily motions. I think that kept him tapped in when the going got tough. It is that sense of being “tapped in” that I’d like to talk about today. In the wild organization of our daily lives there is not a lot of room for God. We spend a lot of time reading from our planners, sighing with satisfaction as we conquer our “to-do lists” and nodding in approval at folks who live the same way. Life in the city is hard and the best way to feel any sort of comfort is to become part of the system or create one yourself. We all live in systems that work for us. The trouble is that sometimes our systems systematically pulled us further and further from the one who can save us from the wilderness that consumes our souls.

After Jesus left the “wilderness” he had just found out that his cousin John (the Baptist) was killed. Mark 1 makes it really simple; Jesus goes straight to Galilee and says, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that unless you are reading out of context and your question is “what is the message anyway?”

I think the Message that he is speaking of is a lot of things but one important part is the line that we skim over or perhaps imagine in a way that doesn’t turn into an action verb. Jesus says “The Kingdom of God is here.” Here. The Kingdom of God is here. Soak that in a minute….

Where is here? Was he pointing to heaven? Was he talking about a certain time of day? Was he talking about himself as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God?

I like to think that Jesus said that line real slow and pointed directly at his own chest. Then he walked  dramatically over to the person next to him and pointed  to her chest and said “here” and then to the next person’s chest and said “here”. The Kingdom of God is in you. Not only that, other translations use the word “now” instead of the word “here” which is even more fascinating. The Kingdom of Heaven is NOW.

Here we have two ideas that bring me to this Lenten season. In the wilderness of normal days, often parched of life, we have been given this absolute truth from the one who not only survived the wilderness but conquered it. The truth is that Jesus lives into a spiritual practice that I believe is the key for the fullness of life. Jesus was present. If you read any of the accounts written in the gospels about him, you will meet a man who was fully present to the people he was with in the moment. He told stories in the moment and didn’t reflect on past history or even dwell too long in the future. Jesus loved with everything that he was (and is). He loved with touch, truth, words, and wonder. He loved people right where they were and this transformed their lives. This transformed his life. I think he learned this in the wilderness. The way to break the cycle, to conquer temptation, to live into that life that Christianity promises is so real, is to live in presence.

Being present is a momentary choice; minute by minute you have the choice to be present to what God is doing in that moment. It is a daily practice of letting go of expectations, sometimes all expectations, so that you can see with holy eyes what God is providing for you to become part of. Each moment is a gift with doors opened wide for you to step in and become God’s love. You aren’t thinking about the future, which lets admit, really means just being fearful because you had all these expectation that might not be met. You aren’t dwelling in the past because you can’t even go back there so what does it matter now? You are present. It is simple. When you are living in the present then you are able to experience something that is only found in the present moment- love.

Love is not in the future. Love is not in the past. You can’t experience it in either of those places. You can only know love right now in the present. So often, I think we believe that Jesus’s love was only available during that time when he walked this earth like us. When you choose to be present to love in the moment then you know, deeply, fully that His love is burning through your daily motions and all it takes is a little awareness and practice to graph yourself to it all the time.

Living in the present is the most fulfilling practice you could take on. Suddenly, your routine turns into a life that you are living. The dullness of your job becomes a blessing of abundance and gifts. The pain in your imperfect family is a hallway of doors that read “comfort”, “consolation”, “forgiveness” and “permission to grieve”. Your life blossoms into a living purpose because you are tapped into His purpose and it is healing.

Being present takes practice. Your mind wanders and you’ve trained it for years to wander to what you could be doing or should be doing. Sometimes you train it to wander back through the words and places you visited once before. To be present you have to catch yourself and turn your thoughts to openness. What am I grateful for in the moment? What do I love about who I am right now? What do I love about this place or that person or this job? Who am I with? Am I with them for a reason? What did I just see? Is that a reoccurring theme this week? Haven’t I heard that message over and over? Why? How does it apply to my life? These are questions that bring you into the moment.

I think being present means that you are becoming love. You stop worrying so much or regretting so much and simply be. In being you have to become what Jesus is- love. There is no giving of love. There is no receiving of love. You are becoming love, fully tapped into the abundance and provision of the moment. What’s cool is that it is always there. All you have to do is try. You will mess up and get off course and I assure you that God will bless those feeble attempts and you will taste the blessing. So this Lenten season, if you do nothing else, become aware of moments you are not being present and try, just try to recognize God providing love for you right here, right now. Welcome to the Kingdom!