Monday, November 8, 2010

Living and enjoying the present

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, he made it clear that when asking God to provide for our needs, in giving us bread, he did not say ‘give us always an over abundance; a never-ceasing flow; a copious excess of bread’, but limited it instead to a day’s portion. Some of us may have a problem with this. After all, isn’t he a God of abundance? He isn’t known to scrimp on goodness and grace, is he? Wasn’t that made clear when he fed the 5000 hungry hillside folk with an abundance that gave bountiful leftovers of twelve baskets full? One wonders what they did with those scraps. Yet, when he taught the Lord’s Prayer, he tells us to ask that God ‘give us today our daily bread’.

Why do we think that there is never enough? Largely because we are fearful and discontented. And it cuts across just about every level of our needs and wants. We fear that there is not enough food, not enough supplies, not enough money, not enough resources, not enough time, and the fear that grips us at our foundations, is the fear that there is never enough love. It is perhaps this innate fear that feeds a greed that is found alongside this fear that causes us to want to store and to hoard, be stingy and selfish, and look out for so many ways to preserve ourselves. This fear narrows our borders and draws distinctions as to where so many of our resources can and should be shared.

In teaching us to pray that God give us a daily portion of what we need, Jesus is not teaching us that God is a scrimpy giver. Jesus is teaching us something that so many of us have yet to learn due to our fear, which feeds our greed and neediness. We are taught contentment and how to live in the present. Don’t ask for too much right now. There is no need to store and to hoard. There are no need to build silos and storehouses.

In a recent random survey, a question was asked about which day of the week was seen as the worse day and why? The people who carried out the survey expected Monday to be the worst, as we know of many people who profess to hate Mondays. Even the popular US music group from the 80s, the Bangles, wrote a hit-song about Manic Monday. Mondays are generally known to be bleak, and the office email boxes are often jammed with enquiries requiring immediate replies, and the faces in the office and buses and trains are not the cheeriest. So, it was generally expected that Monday was going to be every respondent’s choice of the worse day. Or so it was thought.

The surprising thing about the answer was that it was not Monday. It was Sunday. And the reason behind the choice was even more telling, and more surprising. No, it had nothing to do with the fact that they felt that they had to go to Church on Sunday. It was not a religion-based survey. Many of the respondents felt that Sunday was the worst day of the week because they were dreading that Monday was just one day away, and all that they had in terms of leisure, rest, recreation, and a generally relaxing time with loved ones and friends was slipping away as Monday approaches. They could not enjoy the moment as it was presented to them.

There is a much deeper problem than what appears at the surface. In a certain hidden way, it shows that many of us have a great difficulty in being present and living in the present, about being contented, and as such, have a self-inflicted air of pessimistic gloominess about us. The Spiritual Fathers have always been advocates of living in the present, being present to the present, and this wisdom is found not only in the Christian tradition, but also in the other eastern religions like Zen Buddhism and Islamic Sufism. The awareness spiritual exercises that are found in many religions point to the need to be tuned-in to the present.

To just ask God for a day’s portion of what we need to get by for the day trains us not to be greedy, and not to live in fear. It also trains us to live in the present, and not project too far into the future. When we develop allergies to living in the present, when we cast our thoughts and fears into the future or carry them from the past, we will either live in fear or in regret, causing us innumerable neuroses. We will not want to forgive because the one who caused us anguish may hurt us in the future. We will not want to let go of a hurt, because we are carrying with us something akin to a huge baggage from the past, even though it may have been decades ago that we were hurt. We may not wish to be generous and deplete ourselves (and be blessedly poor, ref the beatitudes) because the future looks bleak and there are clouds looming on the horizon.

Is this kind of spirituality advocating a ‘live-for-today; to-hell-with-tomorrow’ mentality? Certainly not. Jesus doesn’t want us to be like the grasshopper in the fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper. But if our entire life and work ethic is based on the fear that there is never enough, it will lead to a constriction of a generously pumping heart in not just individuals but also large corporations and countries, where resources will not be shared simply because of a fear that is often irrational or worse, simply protective of oneself.

When the Hebrew people were freed from the slavery of the Egyptians in their 40-year exodus in the desert, they were fed with manna from heaven. Apart from it appearing like hoarfrost, they were told that it would not keep for more than a day. Isn’t that telling us that God’s providence though wonderful and good, needs to be received with an attitude that decries any hoarding, and to be contented with the present?

Perhaps now, knowing this, it should spur us to being more aware of the need to be present when we say “give us today our daily bread”, and not be too worried that there may not be enough for tomorrow.

7 comments:

  1. Hi Fr Luke
    This is a life-changing thought for me! How many times we pray for the abundance to keep, to stay healthy and to store for rainy days?

    Since we believe in a God of abundance, we must trust him for all our tomorrows and since we pray for heaven on earth, we must learn to live in the 'now'.

    I, for one, would start to live and pray only for each new day and leave the rest in God's hands! Many thanks to Fr Luke for this enlightenment and may God bless your priesthood daily ever after. Amen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for reminding me that our time, the present, is God's gift.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Fr. Luke,

    As Fulton Sheen wrote, "All our anxieties relate to time" (Sanctifying the Moment" in Lift Up Your Heart, 1950)

    The present moment is all we have, isn't it?
    The past we cannot change and the future - well, it will always be beyond us.

    I strongly suspect that living in a constant state of gratitude for all that has been given us will go a long way in putting to rest those fears and anxieties which ultimately, will lead us to be more self-centred and self-serving.

    And then we can start living.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Reflecting on yr 2nd para. -fear makes us into a defensive and insecure people and heightens our desperate search for things that last. This explains our storing and hoarding. 'Living in the present' seems to be the panacea.....however, this will take time & conscious effort. It requires us to reach within/into ourselves - to bring forth the virtues (of the Spirit) faith, hope and love that perhaps can help to transform our relationships with others....thus, maybe bringing some measure of fulfillment and meaning to life....?
    tessa

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fear cripples and "Fear cuts us off from each other." to quote Timothy Radcliffe

    wt

    ReplyDelete