Guest Writer Burton: In the Present
“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
My spiritual director patiently reminds me to be “in the present.” Good advice for a Type A personality like me. Good advice and good luck, my closest friends would add. But while on a week-long holiday recently, I found myself practicing being in the moment. It was a remarkable experience.
It is not as if I haven’t tried this before. I have failed at meditation more times than most people have tried. I still work at it. Of course, that is just the problem. Being present is not something to be done, it is more something to be experienced. When asked why I am in spiritual direction, I say, “People tried to make me think I was bad. God invited me into something better.” I guess it is not so strange that being present to the moment offers that “something better.”
When I first read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, I saw the old pastor as an image of my father. Re-reading it now—at age 75—I relate more personally. A remark the minister makes rings truer now than it ever did: “Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”
During that week-long holiday, we went to hear the Brahms Requiem. It was a magisterial performance led by one of the world’s great conductors. Surprise washed over me when I realized the violins did not participate in the opening movement. I’ve sung the Requiem and been to at least a dozen performances. Never had I realized what anyone with a score in front of them or anyone who was really present already knew. The sounds of the violas, cellos and bases was transfixing. I had never really heard it before.
There were other moments, far more mundane, too. Not worrying about arriving, but rather enjoying the walk. Not being concerned about appearance, and instead experiencing a shining present moment. It was indeed “something better.”
Not to worry. This is not a tale of transformation from cocoon to butterfly. I’m still pretty much a slug—to mix my images. But that isn’t the point. The point is that I have had moments of being in the moment, of being present, and it is where I want to spend more time, not in the future, but…well you understand. This is a journey undertaken not because someone convinced me I was bad, stained, flawed; but rather a journey undertaken because God invited me—us—to something better.