For some Christians, practicing being present sounds too other religion-y, too “out-there”, too vague. To Christians who love the “go” of the gospel, who find purpose in a mission, and joy in activity, being told to “be present” is too inactive, even a trap of the devil to stop the forward motion of the kingdom. Aren’t we supposed to be looking forward to Jesus’ coming and the full expression of his kingdom? Yes, we are. Aren’t we supposed to turn from our old selves? Yes, we are. But these are not the only aspects of following Jesus. We follow him today, too.
So, why is it important for a Christian to be present? And what does it mean?
First, although God spoke the Bible into being in the past, His word is alive and active today. He has also embedded every “today” with his presence. In Hebrews 4:7, 9-12a, it says:
God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David,…
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish… For the word of God is alive and active.
When you read a certain passage and it strikes you as especially pertaining to you in the moment, that is the Holy Spirit speaking today.
To those who are compelled to go and tell, do and act, it is important to recognize daily that Jesus does not only live in the future of heaven, but in today. Let that future inform the present, but not take its place. In our eager anticipation, let us not gloss over the realities of today.
Second, our creating, life-giving God is making today and gifting it to us who live in it. He has purposes for it and for us. God speaks in Isaiah 55:10-11:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
All time is in his hands, for he made it. In Isaiah 46:10 he says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Yes, he has created us for eternal life and called us into His promises, but He is giving us life today to live that out now.
Third, to be present means three things for a Christian:
1) to be attentive to God in the moment,
2) that we are called to be his disciples today, not living nostalgically for a real or imagined past, or living with disdain for today because we think the future is the only place we will find happiness and fulfillment,
3) that we are able to attend and minister to others without our own thoughts and concerns taking precedent.
The biggest difference between the practice of being present within other spiritual traditions and Christianity is that a Christian is seeking and experiencing God in the moment as His beloved creation. We are listening to God in the moment.
Jesus left heaven with its lack of time, to enter our here and now at a very specific time. He did not live longing for the past, or ignoring the importance of today because of the future. He lived in Mary’s now, and Joseph’s now, and Peter’s now. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our present help in the todays that followed in which we now live. In John 14:26 He says, “The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.”
I will elaborate in another post how practicing being present helps Christians minister to others. For now, may I merely point out that when we are present with God regularly, our worries and preoccupations dim because we are able to leave them in his hands, thus making more compassionate space within ourselves to minister to others.
Now, I am by no means an expert on other religions, but I wanted to make an effort to point out some important lessons we can learn from others who practice presence far more frequently, as well as some fundamental differences.
In yoga, it is an exercise, a practice, meant to waken you to yourself on the way to perfection. While Christians do not share the same belief that self-awareness will make us perfect, there are some lessons we can take from yoga. For example, “Yoga uses the simple clarity of the body as a means to bring the mind into presence. Rather than just dictating actions to the body, the deepest yoga practice teaches the mind how to listen to the body in the pure light of awareness without judgment or expectation.”
This stance of listening without judging or expectation is necessary for Christians too. Jesus listened deeply, and he did not cast judgment, reserving that for the Father when He deems the time right. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” John 3:17.
While Zen Buddhism recognizes that we are limited beings, it denies God, certainly a personal, loving God. But it does recognize that the problem lies within us. Christians go further and name it sinfulness.
“It’s how our mind handles those external forces [like interruptions, conflict, pressure and chaos] that is the problem.”
This is true. We try to solve things on our own, without God. No matter how brilliant we are intellectually, how emotionally intelligent, we are still sinful, including Christians, so our natural bent is toward broken, independent-of-God solutions.
Practicing being present, which really puts us in touch with the experience of being a creation and beloved at the same time, helps us to humbly accept this again, and find God in the here and now.
In Buddhism of a more general nature, practicing being present is a way to be released from suffering, from the attachments we make with our expectations and desires. Ultimately, Buddhists deny any permanent, essential soul and self, so practicing presence is a way of losing those attachments that create the illusion of self. This is very different from why a Christian practices presence!
Christians recognize the permanent eternity of our souls, that God created each and every unique one, and when we are present we are allowing ourselves to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is much like paying close attention, so close that we forget our own concerns and preoccupations, to a dear friend.
To those who acknowledge the inspired word of God, the historical humanity of Jesus’ divinity on earth, and base their lives on God’s past actions and the promise of His future actions, it is important to be open to His presence and action in today.