About 100 pounds, rep #8, 3rd set, bench press straight long barbell medal rod….dangling precariously above my exposed head and throat. Homestead Court Club weight room, Edwards, recently. One might think that situation requires total focus to coordinate a smooth complete press as what remains of my pectoral muscles are fatigued exponentially, to microscopically tear my muscle fibers while exercising so they heal more densely at rest. More density, more flexion, more nerve action, more core strength…all of which disrupts tine’s silent burglary of an aging body’s core strength. Proper form is essential for safe and productive weight training, and serious injury can result when contesting gravity’s grip on free weights suspended over your body. My mental narrative at that moment….”bride needs a call…did I return that email…got to get the wreath put together…it’s warm in here…boy am I getting old…” Seriously. My rather honest trainer barked when I completed the set, “Where were you?” And then, as I stumbled over a reply, his astute theological prescription: “Be here while you’re here! Be there later!”
Amen brother! My weekly accountability partner, a wise older man with a full toolbox of life experience, puts it like this: “Don’t miss the gift of the present moment Brooks!” Jedi Grandmaster Yoda chastises a young Luke Skywalker at their first meeting, “Never (your) mind on where (you) are. On what (you) are doing! Always looking away, always to the future!” (Dear readers, this is a Star Wars reference, and yes, of course it counts if supportive of today’s theme!) Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.” (And bonus here, he was a real Roman Emperor who composed philosophical works at night!) Our Lord himself taught famously, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” Jesus also told a disturbing parable about a wealthy man more concerned with his riches than his faith, and in the middle of a grand business expansion an angel appeared and announced to the man he would die that very night, revealing all his seemingly important work as mist in a strong wind.
Every major religious system, perhaps religion itself, articulates axioms about being present, being aware, being conscious, connected and re-connected (re-ligio in Latin literally translates to be reconnected, like ligaments connecting muscle tissue). My accountability friend reminds me that if I cannot be aware of and receptive to the present moment how can I possibly begin to know God who gifted me with this very moment of life itself?! I know that “mindfulness” is the current populist term for this axiomatic truth, but I personally prefer the descriptors “present” and “presence.” Of course, the opposite is “absence,” an existential vacating of daily life. Alcohol, marijuana, social media, the Hallmark Channel, shopping, hoarding, Netflix and chill, all manner of illegal narcotics, food….we are trained to choose a customized anesthetic with which to remove us from intentional awareness. The irony is all of the habits indigenous to Christian faith work to situate us precisely at the intersection of reality with the Kingdom of the Heavens 24/7, 365! Advent screams at us to wake up, (Jesus), stay awake (Jesus), Repent (John), Repent again (every prophet in the Hebrew Bible), wake up some more (Paul), Don’t Be Afraid (Gabriel), get the family trip-tik ready (Joseph), get ready for God’s greatest surprise (Mary)….every Advent moment, every biblical moment, invites us to be completely, relentlessly open to the reality of the present moment.
During my next workout, I intentionally avoided even looking at a clock, and tried very hard to focus on correcting my technique and keeping my form while listening to my very loud body. It was the most relaxing hour, and it literally flew by. I loved it. And the hour afterwards, and since then, many more hours and minutes and moments from the Lord of Life. Perhaps the best gift of all is the one we are receiving…right now!
- Where are you? I mean, right now? I strongly dispute this dumpster fire of a year as a lost year, a dark year, a forgotten year, a wasted year. Nothing is ever wasted or lost in the Kingdom of the Heavens! What learnings about reality have you taken away from 2020?
- What customized anesthetic are you enjoying right now? And how’s that working for you, and for me?! Is this week a week to fast from, literally, the crutches which comfort us but dull our senses to reality? Might that fast prepare us for Christmas?
- And, if you are not yet cursing me, how best can we receive the gift of this present moment with all the love into which God pours into it, and into us? What singular practice, habit or reminder works best for you to be present to God and to yourself?