You've probably encountered it. It's pretty popular these days: a call from someone, somewhere, to quit worrying about the future or making too much of the past. Instead, you're invited to live in the present, being fully where you are.
I love "present-moment" spirituality. I love its offer to calm and re-orient me, especially since I'm tempted to live two steps ahead. Whenever I find myself thinking about what's coming next, or what's happening later this day or week, then recalling the present helps. The things I'm worrying about aren't here yet. I'm not a half-mile down the road, I'm here. Right here. And that's good to remember because straining to see around the corner exhausts me, robbing me of the chance to notice and enjoy what's already been given.
But the thing I love most about present-moment spirituality is that it's more than just a call to mental or physical rest. Important as those are, reminding one another to "live in the present" means more than "give your scheduled-addled brain a break." At least, it should be. Present-moment spirituality isn't synonymous with rest, though it often leads us to it. It's something we can practice even when we're running hard for the kingdom.
When I first started thinking about what it might look like to fully enjoy the present moment, I came across a pretty obscure guide. The person who helped me think about my life in the present ended up being a relatively unknown 18th-century Jesuit spiritual director.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade is someone that hasn't been well preserved by history. We know a little about his career and where he lived, but the one book he wrote and published during his life isn't what makes him known to us today. We remember Caussade for the devotional text that emerged out of a series of letters and conversations that were preserved and posthumously published.
Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, better known today as The Sacrament of the Present Moment, comes to us thanks to the nuns who saved what Caussade wrote and said to them as their spiritual director. Pieced together from his interactions with this particular community, the book has epistolary warmth. Like Paul, Caussade leaps from practical instruction to abstract thought to doxology at the drop of a dime. And it's this book that's helped me think about present-moment spirituality in a way that no other has.
In it, Caussade makes a pretty simple assertion: “What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could happen to us." That means that the stuff of our lives, the real, daily grit and grime and glory, is God's gift. What we have in front of us, right here and right now, is the best thing for us, is the thing that's going to make us holy. It's not out ahead of us, it's with us in the present. That pile of dirty dishes? Opportunity for holiness. That unending pile of laundry? Holiness. That gentle morning sky? Holiness. That car breakdown? Holiness. God is arranging each and every moment of our lives in a unique, one-of-a-kind holiness program.
So what are we to do? It's simple, really. We're to "leave God to act in everything, reserving for ourselves only love and obedience to the present moment."
Okay, maybe not so simple. It's a big thought, and it's hard to see all of its implications. But think about it: what, in all of God's good earth, is there that isn't given for your holiness? Everything God has made is for you and points to him. He's programming your entire course of sanctification from start to finish. All he asks you to do is show up for class.
The thing is, it's easy to go looking for God and miss him. Whenever I think about all of the things I could or should be doing, I miss God here with me. And I know I'm not alone with this problem. It's one that Caussade directly addresses to a nun with the same kind of spiritual uneasiness. He writes:
“You are seeking God, dear sister, and he is everywhere. Everything proclaims him to you, everything reveals him to you, everything brings him to you. He is by your side, over you, around you and in you. Here is his dwelling and yet you still seek him...you seek perfection and it lies in everything that happens to you.”
That's the point. God's with us, in the present. We don't need to seek him elsewhere, because he has ordained today for us. He's given me the gift of this present moment and he's in it with me. All that's required is for me to a) love and b) obey whatever he's brought me. He'll take care of the rest.
The present moment, that is, whatever God's brought to us is what we need for our holiness. And this is going to be true for our whole life; as long as we lovingly and obediently follow Christ who's here with us, we'll see that "wherever [we] go, he has gone before," and that by seeking him here where he is, we will "find him everywhere."