Lord, you have promised to meet those who seek your face. Come now and reveal your presence to me as I make myself present to you. In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, AMEN.
This prayer captures the essence of what I’ve been thinking about the last week: being present to God in Christ.
For many years I have begun each day with the reading of scripture and prayer, sometimes journaling as well. I was surprised then last week on holiday to find myself reluctant to continue doing so. It wasn’t that I’d lost faith in the value of the practice, it’s just that on holiday it seemed too much like work. It’s an occupational hazard as a minister that faith practices are work oriented, reading the scriptures for next week’s sermon or an upcoming lesson instead of just receiving it as daily bread. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with finding inspiration for work that lies ahead. Many times I have been directed to teach from what I’ve learned in my devotional hour.
But, when devotional time is reduced to a search for appropriate material, or when the practice of prayer and scripture becomes too closely aligned with the routine of the work day something is lost. On holiday I needed to step back.
Thankfully, I was counselled some years ago not to feel slavishly devoted to the practice and, when those days came that the inclination was missing or had waned somewhat, it was ok not to do it.
The difficulty is in finding the balance. All too often I have found that missing a day or two or three leaves me feeling ragged and more vulnerable to the temptations of my sin than I’d like to be. I feel less of the man Christ wants me to be.
I remember hearing a professional musician talk about the discipline of daily practice. “When I miss a day of practice, I notice the difference. When I miss two days, my audience notices the difference.” Likewise for my devotional practices. When I miss a day, I notice the absence. When I miss two my irritability and discomfit becomes noticeable to others, at least that’s what it feels like.
This is not the first time I have experienced this on holiday. Because I stay up later and sleep later and lack the familiar comforts of my devotional time and space, it’s easy to let it go. But, I need it.
Having holiday time is like receiving a gift. You are meant to rest and take time away from the usual routines, no matter how edifying you believe them to be. Holiday time is about not doing so that you are better able to do upon return. Coming home “tan, rested and ready” is what it’s all about. The fact that we often return more tired than when we left is a testament to the fact that holidays can be as much work as staying home. The strain of travel, poor sleep in strange beds, excessive food and drink, new activities and the demands of parenting children who are equally divorced from their routines have a cumulative effect. Adding the worry of missed devotional time is just not going to make it better. So, this last week I allowed myself to skip the routine and leave my prayer books and bible on the shelf. Instead I simply took a few moments to be present to Christ and to be present in the moment.
My time and energy is often divided between two poles: worry about the past and anxiety about the future. I perpetually visualize things I would have done differently in the past and dwell ad nausea on my perceived failings. At the same time I think about work that lies ahead, preparation and planning undone, apathy to be overcome, worry about potential disasters that rarely if ever come to pass.
The result is that there is often very little of me in the present. I am emotionally unavailable to my loved ones and often unable to enjoy the pleasures that lie in front of me. Holidays come and go without being real holidays simply because I do not allow myself the privilege of letting the past be the past and the future be the future. Vanity and the illusion of control in both these spheres makes it difficult to enjoy the now.
And, it makes it difficult to be present to the joy of Christ. Christ holds our past and our future in his hands redeeming the one and hiding the other so that we might know him right now. Dwelling anxiously on the past or the future blinds us to Him. It is selfish really, a turning away from Him.
I know about “practicing the presence” of Christ. I’ve read about it and tried to do it many times. It’s just that last week, on holiday it became something new for me. It was like receiving a gift and enjoying it like a child who has no conception of adult preoccupations with time past and future. Christ gives time to those who will receive it and he gives it generously and joyously and not just on holidays.
I’m not always sure I understand what it means to walk with Him, but He has promised us that his “way is easy and his burden is light.” Trying to feed the insatiable demands of the past and future is neither easy nor light. It must not be Christ.
Carlo Carretto in his book In Search of the Beyond writes these words that seem apt.
“As for me, I began to know Jesus as soon as I accepted Jesus as the truth; I found true peace when I actively sought his friendship; and above all I experienced joy, true joy, that stands above the vicissitudes of life, as soon as I tasted and experienced the gift he came to bestow on us: eternal life.”
Eternal life is now, right now.