The Only Way Out Is Through
One of the most challenging things for most of us to figure out is the ability to be fully present in the present.
I struggle with this, and I'm not alone.
The temptation to view our present circumstances through the lens of the past is powerful. The feeling of uncertainty that comes when we try to envision the future through that same lens is both fear-inducing and risk-averse.
Some time ago, I jotted down a quote from the late Alan Watt, who wrote extensively about this very issue:
The more we accustom ourselves to understanding the present in terms of memory, the unknown by the known, the living by the dead, the more desiccated and embalmed, the more joyless and frustrated life becomes. So protected from life, man becomes a sort of mollusk encrusted in a hard shell of “tradition,” so that when at last reality breaks through, as it must, the tide of pent-up fear runs wild.
In essence, Watt captures how we compare where we are to where we've been and who we are to what we've done or what has been done to us.
Rather than living in the moment, taking one day at a time, and learning to be present, most of us judge ourselves and others based on our past's redacted and blurry memories.
And so we build a shell to protect us from whatever the future might bring, living our lives walled off from whatever dangers or heartbreak lies ahead. Our "pent-up fear" runs wild.
It's no wonder there is so much acrimony, anger, and division in our culture right now. Far too many of us have created shells based on the collective and individual trauma we have experienced over the past several years.
Life is hard enough, but when you add to that the social, political, and religious divides that widened during the pandemic, we can easily see why there is so much fear in the world around us and within us.
I don't have any easy answers to how to live more fully in the here and now, to let go of the past, and release our fear of tomorrow. Because there aren't any easy answers.
It's hard work to practice mindfulness when our minds are racing. It's challenging to be present in what Fr. Richard Rohr calls the "naked now" when we're constantly recounting what might have been.
But, to paraphrase the poet, Robert Frost, "The only way out is through."
The way through our fear of the future and preoccupation with the past is a journey often fraught with difficulty, and it's easy to give up. But if we are willing to try, we can find our way to a life grounded in now.
I am doing everything possible to live into that brave and startling truth.
And sometimes, I glimpse what that kind of life looks like. Once you see it, you can't unsee it, I've come to learn.
May we all find our way through. May we all hold on to the hope that being present in the present is truly attainable. May we find God in our moments of struggle. May we discover what it means to be the people God longs for us to be.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.