The space between the future and the past is the ever-fleeting present.
It seems that we rarely experience what is happening as we are so caught up in processing what just happened or what is about to happen. We live our lives in a state of recollection or anticipation (both of which are often saturated with anxiety).
We live somewhere else, somewhere other than the present.
A couple years ago for Lent I gave up five miles per hour.
Whatever the speed limit was, I would drive five miles less. This was not just my attempt to incite road rage in the drivers around me. This was my attempt to be present, to be where I am instead of where I’m going to or coming from.
I realized that most of my time driving is spent looking at what’s coming ahead and glancing in mirrors to see what’s just behind. But these are more than just necessary driving habits; these are the ways we live our lives. We are constantly looking ahead at what’s coming up or glancing back to see what we left behind. We live in a perpetual “there” when all that really exists is the actual “here.”
My five-miles-less experiment was a reminder to myself to be present in this ever fleeting moment. I wanted to be where I am instead of where I’m not.
What does it mean to be where you are? What does it mean to smile, breathe, and go slowly? To soak up this moment and not the one behind or ahead?
If you ask someone why they eat breakfast you will likely hear a myriad of answers: to start the day, to gain energy, to stay healthy, to satisfy early morning hunger pangs, etc. Yet all of these responses are ignoring the present moment for the sake of the future. They are all anticipating something.
Why do I eat breakfast? To eat breakfast. (The same could be said for running but I’m a much more avid breakfast eater than I am a runner.)
Be present. Be where you are. For it is the only place you can ever truly be.
Become aware of each in-breath and out-breath, present with the only moment that ever is: this one.
Sometimes I like to match my socks and tie to the church season. And while we’re not quite to them yet, this morning’s chapel at Western Theological Seminary was centered on the season of Ascension and Pentecost. And so naturally, I wore red.
I was designing and leading this morning’s chapel with two classmates, Brad and Deb. We were the last student led chapel of our two-week intensive and so as I never do, I didn’t want to settle for just “another chapel.” I wanted to offer something theologically robust, creative, and experiential.
Our draft for chapel was due a few weeks ago (as a part of one of our classes). We had a plan. And it was a good one, with an intentional intermingling between an Ascension Psalm and an Ascension hymn, a proclamation centered around God breathing life into “these dry bones,” and some mindful breathing. But then in the middle of a class discussion I had a glimmer of an idea, called Brad and Deb aside, and pitched it to them. And they loved it. And so did the class (to whom all three of us are immensely grateful as they significantly helped provide specific shape and form to our concept).
We scrapped what we had planned and opted instead for a more “Pentecost” type experience. It would either be the best thing ever or go up in tongues of fire.
After a simple responsive reading and a mindful reading (with space to ponder) a psalm, we transitioned to the “praise” section of the chapel. Only instead of having a song or hymn or reading prepared we trusted the song or hymn or reading of praise that the Spirit was already brewing within us. With a simple progression building on the piano, I invited everyone to stand and put a spirit-filled hum or alleluia or the word or phrase they pondered to melody, our many voices joining as a Pentecost experience of praise.
I’m not sure what everyone else was singing – I could hear snippets of words and phrases from around the room as well as Tim Brown standing next to me – but my “praise” was simple: Rivers and roads, rivers and roads, rivers ’till I reach you.
But this beautiful and spirit filled experience was not the end of our gathering. Brad stood up and read a selection from Acts 2, the breath of God filling the people of God, humanity as the medium for the divine, the word of God spoken and once again made flesh. Similar to our self-authored hymn of praise, Brad asked who among us had a word of God, an insight, an idea, a thought, a question.
After a moment of silence the room began to erupt. It was as if the wind of pentecost filled the chapel, giving breath to our lungs and tongues of fire on our lips. The Psalm was revisited and given spirit-filled commentary. Words of hope and encouragement were spoken. And God was in this place.
As the room settled to a contented quiet, Brad stood and said, “This is the Word of the Lord.”
Thanks be to God.
Today is World Labyrinth Day.
Prayer labyrinth’s are a simple invitation to prayer, placing one foot in front of the other, walking a clear path that loops there and back again, yet somehow always inward and returning outward.
A labyrinth reminds me to smile, breathe, and go slowly.
A labyrinth invites me to live deeply and honestly with the people around me and deeply honestly with myself.
A labyrinth shapes my life as an ever-evolving journey, full of presence and movement, simplicity and wonder.
Walking a labyrinth is a unique experience. Each mindful step forward follows the path inward, towards the center. I pause along the way, allowing others to pass or simply for a moment of stillness in the midst of my prayerful movements. I arrive at the center, an inward journey that is never complete but always ongoing. I can sit, stand, or simply return to the path. Because this prayer and my journey is not content with only one direction, but must always integrate and balance the inward and outward movement. I am a whole person, or at least I aspire to be, and as such my prayer must aspire to be equally holistic.
I want my life to be a labyrinth, looping there and back again, always moving inward and returning outward.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
This week’s #5daysinarow project is Five Days of Mindfulness. My favorite Buddhist monk has taught me to “smile, breathe, and go slowly,” an axiom I aspire to live by (and even have a tattoo on my wrist to remind me of). The smiling part comes fairly naturally (I’m a pathological optimist) but the other two can be a bit more difficult. What do you do when you find yourself out of breath and sprinting through a marathon?
Sometimes the pace of my life is difficult to keep up with. I create lists, maximize an array of productivity apps, write things down in my Everything Notebook, and do my best to maintain efficiency and creativity in my work. From papers to write to teachings to create to Idea Sheets to fill out to books to read to laundry to wash to emails to send to photos to edit to websites to update, there is always one more thing demanding my time and attention. What do you do when you realize that time and attention are not the infinite resource you hoped they would be?
Every week for the past six years middle school students at Mars Hill have been invited to stop and breathe, to find God as close as their very breath; to find God as their very breath. God is with me, but even more God is within me, loving me and giving me life. I introduced this practice for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t want students to see God or spirituality as something they add to their already busy life but instead I want them to reframe the way they see all of their life, finding God in every part of it, starting with the 21,000 breathes they take each day. Second, I wanted students to have a way to center themselves, “stop and breathe” becoming a simply phrase with Pavlovian affects they can utter whenever they become angry or anxious. And third, I invite students to stop and breathe because I know that I need the same invitation.
You breathe approximately 21,000 times each day. How many breathes have you taken since you started reading this blog post? How many of them were you aware of? Breathing isn’t really something you do but something you witness as it happens. Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, I feel it is a wonderful moment. Go ahead. Stop and breathe. It just might change your life. (Or at least this present moment.)
Amidst the constant shaking of the subway, I look up to see a man sitting across from me, praying.His eyes are closed, his lips move silently, and his fingers move from prayer bead to prayer bead. On either side of him are two other men, unaware of this holy ground and unaware of my voyeuristic??tendencies. One man flips through his newspaper while the other phases between sleeping and waking.
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