Wars, rumors of wars, plagues, climate apocalypse in various guises, are all predicted in the bible, if you choose to read it only in that way. But more to the point, all are predictable, given the way human beings behave towards each other, towards other species, towards this planet.
There are many Christians who believe we are living in the ‘end times’. They are not entirely mistaken, because we have been living in these ‘end times’ ever since the moment Christ ascended into heaven. Like the disciples who were left staring into the sky, we are looking up and ahead to the ultimate moment while living in the ‘now’ moment.
A comparable situation exists for each of us as individuals, whether or not we are Christians or people of faith. From the moment we are born we embark on the journey of our mortality. We live our lives in ‘end times’. We do not know how long it will take for us to reach home, as it were, but we are all on our way there. I would hazard a guess that most of us are aware of this inevitable progression, and think about it quite often during the average day.
I found myself thinking about these things this morning, as I read about the outbreak of bubonic plague in China and of the new strain of potentially species-leaping swine ‘flu. I thought about it all in the context of that precise moment, while looking out at a greyish windy sky, a pool of water with its long grasses growing around it like thick hair and the bit of the tree I can also see from that corner of the room, a Crimson King that we planted 26 years ago and which has now come into its full glory. The pool took seven years to stabilise, so that the water is now kept crystal clear by the grasses and surrounding plants. It all took time. Now we are moving on, so that the couple who have bought this place can pick up where we left off.
I thought about how every day is a matter of picking up where we and others have left off and of the decisions that need to be taken, the mindsets that are needed to work good or ill in the world. I thought of all this as a single moment. I held it before God. I wondered if anyone else was doing something similar at that precise moment.
I think being able to simply hold the present moment in a good place in our minds is the beginning of prayer. The will to the good, to healing, to remaking the present, so that it can embody hope for the future, is something we are all called to do. But I also believe that there is more to it than that. It involves giving ourselves completely to the ‘now’ moment itself, surrendering into it, so that love can pour into the ‘space’ we create when we do this surrendering. So the other word for this kind of surrendering, involves dropping deeply into love, as we would jump or drop into a pool of water.
Prayer also involves what Jesus called ‘dying’, or living as if we were ‘dying into’ an eternal present moment. He tells us that for this to be possible we have to do some surrendering. We have to surrender ‘self’. He is not talking about suppression of who we are in order to become someone else. Neither does he mean trying to suppress what we think is unlovable in ourselves. Prayer is not about any kind of suppression. It is quite the opposite. It is about dynamic engagement with a God who loves us as we are, and it is about trust. By dynamic engagement I mean something akin to getting on to a moving walkway – but much more exciting and unpredictable than those we experience in airport transit corridors when one is too tired to walk at the end of a long-haul flight. When we pray we walk in step, in pace, with God.
Prayer is about getting on to the dynamic movement which, on the whole, we only understand as the passage of time. The present moment that we are surrendering into embodies all of time as we know it. If we do this exercise frequently enough we also experience that multi-dimensional phenomenon which some artists and mathematicians come close to describing, but which most of us simply know as eternity – time without end.
So why am I saying all this? I’m saying it because I’m inviting all of us to become practitioners of this kind of surrendering into the eternity of the present moment which is also a matter of movement, of ‘going with’ the purposes (the moving staircase, perhaps) of God. “But what if you don’t believe in God?” I hear some people ask. I cannot really answer that, except to ask that you do the surrendering and the dropping into love, in the moment, not with what you believe you have at your disposal in the way of focus and self-control, but with a willingness to self-abandonment, so that your courage and generosity of spirit can ‘move’ the power that heals, restores and redeems. You may change the world. You may also give the power a name some time. One never knows.