‘Going forward’ has become an annoying expression used by politicians and business leaders. We will hear more and more about the ‘forward estimates’ in the debates about the Federal Budget next week. So much of our discourse is about planning the future. I wonder whether at least in some ways this is how we avoid living in and dealing with the present.
I’ve found a number of helpful resources suggesting a renewed focus on being present and living in the present.
Peter Millar has contributed the following thoughts to a book of reflections, edited by Neil Paynter, This is the day: Millar writes:
One of the hallmarks of contemporary society is that we tend to live in the future. But this psalm (Psalm 118) reminds us, as do many passages of scripture, that we are not future tense people but we live in the moment of possibility now. The possibility that is inherent in the present moment. ‘Life’, as one commentator has said, ‘is not a dress rehearsal. It is now.’ This is the moment of pilgrimage, of possibility, of truth.’
These are very helpful comments: to think that how we live now is not a practice run, it’s the real deal. But more than that, the possibilities are not somewhere in the future; they are given to us now, and if we do not see them in immediate reality then the task is to work towards them, to find a way to live into them. They are real and true, even if ‘not yet’.
These were the dynamics of Jesus’ life and mission, as I see it. I’ve been reading some of the research of a doctoral student which, amongst other elements, notes the theme of ‘today’ in Luke’s Gospel. In the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’ in Luke 4, where Jesus reads in the synagogue from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he then declares that today this prophecy is fulfilled, among them. So too there are other instances, such as Jesus’ saying to Zacchaeus that today salvation has come to his house (Luke 19. 1- 10); and to one of the men crucified with him Jesus declares: Today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23.43). There are other examples. The challenge is to understand the significance of this ‘today’.
It seems to me that Luke is saying that there is always this possibility, to know in the here and now the impact of Jesus’ presence, the coming of the reign of God. In the face of all the other demands and power structures, and our desire to create our own future, God offers us the present. The present is a gift. That’s a delightful ambiguity in the English word present. The present is a present, a gift. It is full of the possibilities of the future. Those possibilities reach into the present and transform it—if we can see it and receive it. Along with that, the past, too, is a present: it offers us many resources and valuable insights, to help us to see the present for all is it worth.
In another wonderful paragraph from the Neil Paynter book, Norman Shanks writes words with which I whole-heartedly agree—a paragraph which will no doubt find its way into the book I’m trying to write on the life of the church ‘beyond religion’.
I think that it is at least arguable that we now live in a post-Christian society and it is indisputable that institutional religion is in decline. I believe that there is a real danger of loss of nerve on the part of the churches. There is a great challenge and opportunity with what the Iona Community describes as ‘new ways to touch the hearts of all’. A church-centred approach to mission is unlikely to usher in the kingdom or produce much more than temporary alleviation of present problems. But an approach that reaches out with imagination and a sense of adventure, seeking to reveal where God is already at work in the world, focusing on Jesus Christ and the promise of the kingdom, will lead on to the excitement and surprises that are inevitably part of the way of the spirit.
(The italics are added.) These words make it clear: God is already at work in the world. Now is the time, not some future for which we long and pray and which we imagine we have to ‘bring in’. Now is the time and this is the day. This is not about ‘fixing’ or even ‘growing’ the church. It is about something much bigger and much more hopeful than that. It’s about the world and all of life as the present, the gift of God here and now.
Let us live in the present, as the gift of the presence of the creative Spirit. That really is the source of imagination, adventure, excitement and surprise.