In this program year’s inaugural Midday Meeting, Delilah led us in a very interesting introduction to Re-evaluation Counseling. It has a fascinating, if controversial history, if you want to learn more about it. Better yet, you might ask to talk with Delilah: her personal testimony about how it came into her life and helped her is worth hearing.
Even more interesting to me was how she used her presentation to get us in pairs and, first, affirm one another and then, second, to share some aspect of our lives that is creating distress. I won’t name names, but the sight of two older men, holding hands and telling one another their truths was very moving to me. An image of what church ought to be.
What I took away from Delilah’s presentation was the hope that we find the room to live in the present. How often do we either get stuck in the quicksand of some past that won’t let us go, or we jump ahead to some hoped for future and completely miss what the present has to offer. A friend of mine who is a therapist always insists that “we only have the present to live in: even all of our memories of the past and all of our hopes for the future, all of them can only be experienced through the flitting prism of the present.” If we get left behind in the past or if we try and escaped to some longed for future, we literally risk missing the only life we are given!
When I was in my second to last year of seminary, I was working at an Episcopal church on the Upper Westside. One Sunday after worship, in coffee hour, I was speaking with a colleague, the Assistant Musical Director, Phillip. He asked me if I was anxious to finish school and begin my career. I responded that perhaps surprisingly, I was not. Rather, I was aware of how sweet life was for me right then. I enjoyed being in Seminary and being the primary daytime caregiver for my young sons, Ben and Simon. Miriam was happy at work. We had a nice and affordable, two-bedroom university apartment and a great, supportive community of friends. While I didn’t worry too much that ‘what’s next’ would necessarily be any less, I also wasn’t feeling much need to rush through my ‘now’ to get someplace else.
He was shocked. He said that he expected that graduate students in particular and young adults in general were chomping at the bit to get on with their lives.
Hmm, I have been blessed, I think, to be constitutionally tilted towards the present! I mean, even when I was a child, and my situation wasn’t ideal, I tended to find enough joy in my current circumstances to keep me present. Sure I have known the excitement of looking forward to being able to drive or to go off to college. And I’m old enough these days to remember wistfully something from ‘back when,’ for instance when my sons were little. But mostly, I am fairly engaged where and when I find myself. I don’t tend to get too far ahead of myself, or fall too far behind!
Recently, I was speaking with someone (outside our church community) in the last days of her life. She’s struggling a bit to figure out how one deals with this period when one can so clearly see how limited the time is. It’s all feeling a bit pointless to her, since the outcome is inevitable and unavoidable. It wouldn’t have been helpful, so I didn’t point it out, but, of course, one could say that about all of life (except that our denials are often powerful enough to keep us from feeling the pointlessness!).
I asked my friend, struggling with the meaning of the time she has left, “Do you still experience joy?”
She responded, “Why, yes, of course. In my children. And I can still sew. And I have always enjoyed my food, and now I don’t even have to worry about my weight. Your visit here today has made me laugh like I haven’t for too long.”
I added, “There may sadly come a time as your body and spirit weaken when that is not so. But until then, savor that joy. Give thanks for the redeeming joy. For that is what defines life; it’s the stuff of abundant life.”
So there’s just this for consolation — a moment or hour here or there where it all comes together, against all odds and expectations, and a great, uplifting joy floods in upon one, and we feel like we are experiencing everything we’ve ever imagined or wanted, even if for just a short time. (Thanks to the novelist Michael Cunningham from whom this last sentence is paraphrased… because I love his original sentence so much that I’ve committed it to memory by heart!)
Time spent with a small child.
A wonderful conversation with a good friend.
The sunshine on a beautiful fall afternoon.
That piece of music or artwork that always transports you to someplace beautiful.
The sound of a voice of someone who’s made a world of difference to you.
The possibilities are endless and as diverse as each of us.
Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34, but read the whole passage, Matthew 6 25-34).
And — though it’s Paul writing, not Jesus saying, but definitely in the spirit of Jesus — “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, she or he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new“ (2 Corinthians 5:17, but if you wish to read it in context…). Jesus’ whole ministry is in a very distinct sense a means for us to find our freedom from the past… his opening us to a new day and a fresh start. The joy of Easter sunrise after the eclipse of Good Friday.
In our faith, perhaps each day offers enough joy that we need not be trapped in the past nor escape to some better future. At least, that’s where I try and find my life.
See you in church,