This is post three in a series about spirituality, time, and place. If you missed them, you may want to read post one, You Are Your Stories, and post two, Own Your Story, first.
I am concerned about contemporary spirituality. One of the most prominent ideas is that all we have is the eternal now. The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet. We can only meaningfully engage the present, and so we need to release the past and the future and live only in the now. While there is truth here, it also leaves a lot out and oversimplifies our relationship with time. It can also have a negative impact on how we work (or fail to work) with our own personal stories.
LIVING IN WHAT IS
Let me begin with what I believe is helpful in this now-focussed spirituality:
- It frees us from getting stuck in the past. When we keep reliving the ‘good ole days’ we find little satisfaction in the present, we resist the world we’re in, and we cling to a world that is no more.
- It frees us from getting stuck in the future. When we’re always focussed on what lies ahead, we find little meaning in now, as we dream of a better world that is always out of reach.
- It deepens our sense presence, connection, and aliveness. We become more aware of what is happening now, and we are more able to experience every moment more deeply.
- It teaches us that time is not just linear, but is also cyclical. We are more able to see and embrace repeating patterns, seasons, and cycles in our lives, and we carry life’s lessons with us as we return to previous experiences at a deeper level.
ENGAGING WHAT WAS AND WHAT WILL BE
It is unwise to get stuck in past or future, but both contain essential gifts for living more fully in the present. This is the part that now-focussed spirituality often leaves out. There is a reason that the New Testament refers to God as the one “who was and who is and who is to come” (Rev.4:8).
- The past shapes the present. As the old saying goes, ‘Those who ignore the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.’ Remembering is an essential spiritual practice because it empowers us to assimilate the lessons of what was.
- The future calls to the present. To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat’s words to Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t matter which path you take.” Without a future at which we’re aiming, our lives are aimless. Prophecy is another essential spiritual practice which involves reading the signs of our times and setting a course toward our preferred future.
MAKING THE NOW COUNT
A healthy and world-changing spirituality must take note of time. If we don’t remember, we cannot identify and correct the injustices and mistakes of the past. If we don’t plan our trajectory, we cannot build a more meaningful life or a more just world in the future. But, when we allow both what was and what will be to speak into what is we can live in the now with greater wisdom, presence, connection, and compassion.
- How have you engaged past and future in your present?
- How does your spirituality empower you to live with a deeper presence in the now while learning from the past and planning for the future?
- What would it mean for you to be more intentional in thinking about and learning from past and future in your now?
I’d love to hear your responses to these thoughts, and also learn more of your story. Please share any experiences or insights in the comments, and let’s keep the conversation going.
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