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Live in the now

I think God’s been trying to tell me something. It started as a nudge, when Bishop Pennel was with us in October. In his sermon that Sunday, Bishop Pennel urged us to live “in the Now,” to focus our attention on the moment that’s right in front of us instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. He expounded on this idea during the Sunday School hour, as he talked about enjoying the experience of eating a strawberry or taking a warm shower. While this teaching is not new, it is so easy for us–for me–to forget.

The nudging I felt that day continued to grow over the next few weeks, and then I had a chance to test myself. David and I took a weekend away to do some hiking in the mountains of western North Carolina. We spent our Sunday morning on a six-mile hike in the Nantahala Forest, and I told myself that I was going to do my best to be fully present to the Now.

I’d gotten a lesson in that several years earlier, when I went on a retreat with Eugene Peterson, a pastor and author of one of my favorite books, The Contemplative Pastor. On that retreat he took us on a “contemplative hike,” and urged us to focus our thoughts on the world around us, to look carefully and lovingly at God’s creation and to offer thanks to God with every footfall. So, as David and I hiked I paid attention to my thoughts (in the moments when we weren’t talking). If my thoughts drifted to yesterday or to tomorrow, if they swung around to the church or to my “to-do” list, I tried to focus my attention on the leaves, the insects, the birds, the sounds of David’s footsteps ahead of me. It was a powerful way to practice being present in the Now. It wasn’t easy, but it did me a lot of good.

With all of this churning around in my heart and in my prayer life, I opened my Bible to find that the Gospel lesson for November 18 was from Matthew 6: “Do not worry about tomorrow.” And I came across that word in verse 34: “Today.” Today. Right now. The present moment. Now. I think God is trying to tell me something.

The present moment is what we have. God is in the Now. In how many different ways are we drawn away from the Now? We chew on the past. We stew over the future. We are distracted from what’s right in front of us by what’s going on elsewhere–on Facebook, on text conversations, on email, on the news. We look at our to-do lists and worry about how it’s all going to get done.

We are about to enter into a very busy season. Lots of distractions. Lots to do. Much to stew over and be anxious about. Before we set out on the journey of Advent, let me invite you (and myself, too) to find ways to live in the Now. Make it a spiritual discipline to be fully present. Simplify things. Ponder the beauty around you. If you go to the mall, say a prayer for each stranger who looks unhappy. Savor the taste of sugar cookies. Be grateful for warm house shoes and fuzzy sweaters. Consider the poinsettias. Give thanks to God for everything. The season of Advent is all about preparing. I can think of no better way to prepare for the coming of Christ than by being fully present to God’s Now.