The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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I thought I'd spend the rest of my time just in a little cell contemplating but
they sent me off to Rome rather soon on to do theology. This was a year of the
years of the council, very exciting, and from there I came back for my master's
at St. John's College, then Dr. Fordham, then back to Rome to teach. We have a
monastery right in the heart of Rome. We've always had urban monasticism as
well as rural hermitages and monasteries. Then I was sent to Berkeley to found a
little urban American presence and then back here I was prior 12 years and now
I'm back in Berkeley. I'll be going there in just next week for the school year
where I teach spirituality. So for me it's been kind of join the
Camaldolese and see the world kind of thing. And Father Bernard, who's also Camaldolese,
you've been around too. So we don't always end up locked up in a little room.
Our topic is, I think, a very beautiful one. I pick these topics because I
love them, not just because someone lays them on me as an obedience or something.
And one theory is that a person who preaches is always basically preaching
to themselves, or the same with conferences. So it's that with me. I think
if we can live in the present, our life is so much the richer. And why to do this
and how to do this, that's basically the topic of these days. It's a yearning and
a seeking and a discipline that's not just limited to the Catholic Church or
Catholic spirituality or Christian spirituality. It's a practice and
awareness in all the great religions. Buddhism talks about mindfulness, just
focus, as does Hinduism. In the Jewish tradition, this is a quote from Martin
Buber, the great, almost contemporary spiritual theological writer. He talks
about it not in terms of time, the present, but in terms of space, the right here.
And this is on a lovely prayer card that someone gave me. He writes, there is
something that can only be found in one place. It is a treasure which can be
called the fulfillment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found
is the place where we are. So it's right here, right now, this treasure for our
existence. And then when the retreat is over and we're driving home, it'll be in
the car as we're going. That will be the place where the treasure is to be found.
And then when we get back home, it'll be there, etc. But if I'm thinking about
then, now, I'll miss it here in this place. That's the basic, I think, insight of
all the great traditions. Just a couple of days ago, our Father Isaiah had his
sister visiting, and she had a bumper sticker in her hand. She had actually
three copies of it, and it's up here in the corner. I'd rather be here now. And
so I thought, well, that sums up our retreat. So I stole one of them. But
you're probably aware of the bumper stickers, you know, I'd rather be fishing
or I'd rather be watching a soap opera or something. Well, there's a certain
sad dissatisfaction in all those. There's a humor. Probably one is, at that point, in
a traffic jam or something, you know. Still and all, if we'd always rather be
elsewhere, what a sad existence, you know. Because each one of us really is here
now. There's the virtual. There's the potential. There's all kinds of other
modalities of being elsewhere. But this is really where we are. So if we can
bring ourselves, really, to be here now, that's a real achievement. And then we
can start living. And sometimes a here and now can be kind of boring. Sometimes
it can be unpleasant. Usually we tend to think it's better elsewhere. But this is
a discipline and practice, what we're involved in this weekend. A kind of a
tough one. It's a kind of a reality therapy. Because again, each one of us
really is here now. So if we can face the reality of this, then we can encounter
the living God, who is really and fully present now, and working through whatever
is this situation. Whether it be the fulfillment of our dreams, or whether it
be a little disappointing, or terribly disappointing, or whatever it is, God may
not will it thus. But God can work through whatever happens to us, wherever we are,
whatever the situation is. So that's the wisdom. So hopefully we'll all be able to
say in a regular way, I'd rather be here, and I'd rather be now. I think this is
Joe Stefano who did just make it, isn't it? And tomorrow he'll be making his
obituaries. So we're all praying for him. So this is what we're after. The problem
is that there's all kinds of obstacles and challenges to this, especially in our
time, maybe. It can be that it was easier in other times. So this might be
romantic. But in any case, we have our challenges, our obstacles. I think as we
bring them to consciousness, we'll be more able to work with them and maybe work
through them. This on the left here is a little outline of what we'll be doing
this evening. So what are some of the obstacles? Well, distractions, fantasies,
just in our imagination, being elsewhere. If this little circle, which wants to be
kind of the focus of a camera or wants to be a host or wants to bring us to this
one here and now, that's what it wants to represent. If that is the here and now,
then all of these temptations to kind of wander elsewhere, through entertainments
and distractions, through fantasies, through imaginations, elsewhere. And a
problem with this is that we not only have to come up with these on our own, but
we have these multi-billion dollar industries of so-called entertainment
distraction. Often enough, they're just after our buck, you know, but so they know
how to entice us. And I think the extent of them is something new, you know,
television with all the channels. When I grew up, we didn't have television until
I was at a certain age. But then I guess it was what CBS and NBC and that was it.
So you had your choice of the one or the other usually only came on a few hours a
day. But now how many channels can spend a whole afternoon just surfing, you know,
just popping from here to there? It's hard to do that and really be here in the
present moment, which is kind of pulled into all these images that are trying to
suck us there and not want us to go on. So probably throwing at us a lot of
sensations, maybe some violence and maybe some sex. So just television, not to
mention the movies, not to mention radio, not to mention Internet, not to mention
magazines and newspapers and et cetera, et cetera. It's not all demonic. It's not
all malicious. There's outstanding entertainments out there, but they can be
such that pull us habitually away. I think especially those of us who live in an
intensely urban context. I know in Berkeley, just our television, our telephone
poles are covered with all these conferences and events and workshops and
special things. So one could be bouncing from one thing to another without really
trying very hard. T.S. Sillian says, we are distracted from distraction by
distraction. And there's just levels of them. And I think I have to do this. But
really, that's a distraction from that other thing that's already, et cetera, et
cetera. So this is a problem. We're going to have homework assignments at the end,
which you don't have to come back with written compositions. But just this
isn't a spectator sport we're involved in. This is participatory. We're all going
out for the team here. So I'm, as I say, sketching some distractions I'm aware of
in my life. It would be helpful for you. What are the distractions in your life?
Some of them good, but some of them that might be excessively distracting in the
etymological that they pull you away from yourself, from centeredness, from
the sacrament of the present moment. And then just fantasies, you know, we can go
from a wild movie to just wherever that takes us, etc. So that whole area, we're
anywhere but right here right now in our head. Then we can go into the future.
This is a splendid capacity of the human person to foresee, not just within 20
minutes of now, but tomorrow and the day after this retreat is scheduled. And
then probably you have your schedule and your calendars for maybe years in
advance, this kind of, this is a real human resource. But we can get fixated in
the future through concerns, through anxieties. Gerald May recently wrote a
little essay, I think quite lovely, called Project Mind, which he says
characterizes himself and so many of us, so many of us who are affective doers.
Again, it's not all demonic, but I've got a project on my plate. And so I plan
carefully and I might divide it into phases. And next couple of days, I'll do
the first part and then day after the next and the next. And I gather all the
resources and I'm absolutely absorbed in this. Finally, I get it done. And then
I immediately give myself another project, or maybe I've got four or five
projects that I'm juggling at the same time, that really can pull me into the
future away from the present. And especially if there's some anxiety
involved, will I be able to do this? Is it going to be a failure? Or if it has
something to do with will I have enough money after the stock market keeps going
down or if there's a job slowdown or whatever? Very often I'm not here now, I'm
off in the future. Maybe in all kinds of, again, worthy projects, but it can be a
problem. And then we have the capacity of memory. And this again, humanizes us
much more than the animals. We can recall all kinds of things about our
individual past and our collective past. And this makes us who we are. So my thing
is not that forget the future, forget the past. These make us fully human and
each one of us comes with our past. But we can get fixated on the past, you know.
It might be in nostalgia. Things were so beautiful in my high school years, you
know. That's what it was really, the way it should always be, but it's not. So I
live there going through the yearbooks again and all that kind of thing. Or maybe it's
rancor. You know, people really hurt me in the past. Well, I'm not going to let go of that.
Some people say I might forget, but I won't forget kind of thing. Maybe on all kinds of
levels I carry that with me. That doesn't help me be here now because that's no longer here now.
Mommy is no longer abusing me or Daddy or my older brother or whatever. I need to not repress
that, etc., etc., the whole therapeutic thing. But if I'm fixated back there, that's not good.
It might be in sadness, the things that I did to others that I ought not to have done
or didn't do that I ought to have done. But we can live in the past also.
It can very much be a flight from the present. This present isn't easy to just be here always.
It means being here with me, with all the stuff, all the unresolved pain, etc. So it's easier to
fly back to those glorious years or easier to fantasize about three years from now when I'll be
retired or whatnot. So not just the purpose of this weekend is not to propose that we just never
deal with the future or never deal with the past. Some New Age currents almost suggest that. Just
always be just here. Jesus said give no thought to the morrow. But Jesus also said who would build a
tower who does not first sit down and plan whether they have enough resources, etc. This could be
quite paradoxical. But in the Jewish style, what he's certainly saying is live this present moment
that is sufficient unto itself. And from here, look forward. If we could stay rooted in the
present as we reflect on the future, plan the future, offer the future to the Lord in our task,
etc. That's different. And as we look back on the past and work on the past or enjoy the past or
try to make a recompense for the past. But rooted in the present, this is where we want to take our
stand or sit down. And again, if we go to a good film or a good play or we enjoy some fantasies or
whatever, if that can still be, I'm not so absorbed in it and pulled in it that I'm just stuck. It's a
flight for myself. That's what it's about, to come back to the present. So, that's the pondering.
Again, if each one of you thinks about what is it that particularly de-centers you, throws you off,
anxiety can be a big one for lots of us. Again, the workaholic thing, which can be addictive.
I know of a abbot who came to the point where he had to confess to himself and his community
that he was alcoholic. This isn't a commodities. And so, he worked with 12-step and got his drinking
under control. He was rushing around. He realized he was just slipping into another addiction,
which was the workaholic. And he found with himself, it was chemical. He realized that he had
this adrenaline rush. This was very exciting. This was reassuring him that he was really alive and
life was important and he was important, etc. So, how to just slow down and be calm and be here.
And again, if I have three things to do today, I'll do them, but hopefully not rushing and hopefully
not trying to push myself into that adrenaline high that does keep me away from a serene presence
here. In any case, if you can come up with some ways that you're regularly pulled away from the
sacrament of the present moment, that's very helpful. The first step is naming it, bringing
it to self-awareness. The cassettes that go on. I'm not really here in quiet and serenity with
God. I'm just working through whatever it is that keeps going around what so-and-so said to me this
morning or whatever it is. So, what are our resources? We're going to be looking at this
extensively tomorrow and Sunday morning. But for me, the main one is it's right here now where I
really am. And so it's right here now where God really is. And God isn't just here in this kind
of neutral and personal way, but is reaching out to fulfill me, to heal me, to love me. And can I
really believe it? Many of us have doubts about this. It's curious, but we can come to believe
that God loves everyone else in the world, maybe. But knowing all the dark stuff that only each of
us knows about ourself, it can be hard to acknowledge, no, God really loves me unconditionally.
That's a word that I think is a challenge, but I think we need it. To work past a basic impression
that God's love for us is conditional. If we do A, B, C, and D, God will still love us.
If we don't do A, B, C, and D, or if we do X, Y, and Z, God is not going to love us anymore.
That's a kind of a spirituality that's not the fullness of the gospel. It's there even explicitly
in some passages of Scripture, but Scripture is revelation evolving and building up to the
fullness of revelation in Christ. There's all kinds of things in Scripture, from slavery and
dung, human sacrifice and the need to kill others, etc. All this is the way this rather primitive
tribe understood God at first, and God just kept patiently working with this tribe until
it realized it wasn't just this little warrior God on their side against other warrior gods
of other tribes, and their God was bigger and could beat up the other kind of thing. But slowly,
no, there's one God, and God loves all people, and we're called to beat our swords into plowing
shares, etc. So, and this culminates in Christ's gospel, etc. So, it's all word of God, but all word
of God culminating in the fulfillment of the revelation that God is love. God so loved the
world that God sent God's only beloved son. This is the heart of it, and so the covenant that God
established is not a, usually we think of a bilateral contract, and each side has to fulfill
its side or else the contract is null and void. This is a very particular type of covenant where
God is faithful whatever we do. Now, that doesn't mean we can't cut ourselves off from God, but it's
we doing it. It's not that God stops being faithful to us, stops loving us. That's the important thing.
I like the image of the sun. It's always shining there. The sun cannot not shine. We can hide in
a basement or whatever, but the sun is always shining. Sometimes we may not even see it because
of the clouds, etc., but the sun is always shining, and to believe in that, that's the fundamental act
of Christian faith. St. Paul says, we have believed in the love that Christ has for us.
There's a, some of you who've been at the retreat at Bishop's Ranch a couple of weeks ago,
some of this will be echoes, but hopefully we can always set much on it again, but a wonderful
quote from St. Bernard who says that God can never and nowhere not love because God is love.
So, God is going to inevitably love us. It's just, are we going to turn our back on that love,
or are we going to refuse that love, or are we going to open and receive that love,
and the privileged place to receive that love is in the present moment where I really am.
God was in my past, and my past is present to God as present. God will be in my future,
and my future is present to God now as present. So, it's all very mysterious,
but I'm really here, and the place God really encounters me is here. Maybe when I'm working
on my memories, maybe when I'm planning my future, but again, from this place,
if I'm pulled out of this place, then God cannot really communicate with me. So,
but I can come back to this place more serenely and joyfully, again, if I believe,
and if I experience that God is love, and God is present, and reaching out
in and through everything right here, right now, to bless me.
For me, a beautiful parable of our Lord, which is a culminating moment of Revelation,
is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke. It's Luke 15, and it begins chapter 11.
And the scripture scholars say it really, in its own way, sums up the whole of the New Testament.
It sums up all that Revelation is trying to say. We're constantly leaving the present moment.
We're fleeing off elsewhere. We're running away with all the riches we could take with us.
That's basically the prodigal son. He goes to his father. You remember, he says,
give me my inheritance. This is already a dreadful offense to the father in the Jewish world.
In the Jewish world, the father kept the whole inheritance until death, and then it passed to
the son. But the son didn't get it beforehand. So, when the son is saying this, it's as if saying,
you're dead to me. I'm off on my own. You're no longer my father. It's not just give me some money.
And don't we, in effect, say that to God when we flee? You know, you're not the center of my life,
but I'm fleeing into my fantasies. I'm fleeing into whatever it be, into this future anxiety,
or into the past, with all the riches that I can take there, which are really from God.
And then again, you'll remember the parable, he soon on spends it all, and he's there with the
with the pigs in the mud, etc. And that's usually where we end up if we break away from the present
moment and God who's truly present in the present moment. So, I'm taking up the parable from that
point. But when he came to himself, that's a key passage. He was first outside of himself,
this prodigal son, in pursuing this pleasure and that, but he came back to himself. That's what
we've got to do, this return to ourself in this real present moment. He said, how many of my
father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger. I will arise
and go to my father and I will say to him, father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am
no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. So here he's getting
in touch with his past at the father's house, and he's remembering all that love, and then he's
making plans about the future. But now very much from this, here I am, I realize this is what's
happening here. And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a great distance, his
father saw him and had compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him. This is clearly the
heavenly father here who awaits our return to the present moment. And we can come with contrition.
God knows where we've been distracted and outplaying. But we come back and God doesn't
need our long speeches of patrician or our acts of penance. So the son said to him, father, I've
sinned against heaven before you and I'm no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said
to his servants, he doesn't even hear this, bring quickly the best robe and put it on him and put a
ring on his hand and shoes on his feet and bring the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and
make merry. For this my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found. It is a kind of a
death when we're elsewhere, when we're fixated on the future in anxiety or fantasy or when they're
just given over to the tapes inside and the fantasies or when we're all caught up in the past.
That's a kind of a death to our real life right now if we're not doing that rooted to the present.
But when we come back again, God is there awaiting us with infinite unconditional love
and the feast begins, even though we may not feel it, and we pass from death to life.
So first homework assignment is to meditate on this parable as summing up all of God's word to
you, to me. And each one of us certainly is the prodigal son daily also as we wander elsewhere,
but it's a joy regularly to come back and just to rejoice again and enter into life again.
And the second homework assignment is again to work on your own
list of what draws you away and what resources you have to come back. And
your resources may well be different from mine. One of the participants here said mischievously
to me, mischievously to me this afternoon. Of course this whole retreat depends on me
and my conferences. And if they're not any good, it'll just be a, you know, a failure.
If they're fairly good, you know, then I responded, no, no. And again, this isn't a
spectator sport. And it's not that I'm just conveying to you information you've never heard
about. All of this is within the collective awareness of all of us. But each one of us
wants to work on how do I ever more abide in this present moment where somehow every resource
and every grace is present. We'll be seeing that. So the main director of this retreat is you
on the human level. And the really main director is the spirit who wants this to be inspired,
whatever I say or don't say, but inspired for each one of us in terms of a real growing in
this capacity. The key thing is the doing, you know, I might talk till I'm blue in the face,
but the key is, am I really ever more present to God now here? Are you ever more present to God
here? That's the main thing. Just a brief review of our schedule for the retreat,
looking forward, but rooted in the present. Does each of you have a copy of the schedule?
Did you get one, Joe? Could this be passed back to Joe? Does everyone else have a copy? Two more.
I'm sorry, three, four.
And should you lose it, it's posted also on the front door and it's posted on the
bulletin board there and it'll be, pardon me? Really? Okay. We don't want anyone living in
anxiety. So just to go through it very briefly. So we've basically done this evening now,
which is usually a little shorter and wants to introduce introduction in the challenge.
Tomorrow at 9am, the present moment is sacrament. We'll start to explore this language. What does
it mean? What's the scriptural basis? What's the theology here of all this? Why we say this?
If we can understand the why, we're at a significant point and we'll use a French
theologian to help us quite a bit, Jean-Pierre de Caussade. I practiced eight times with him
and his name there is at the top. He came up with this phrase, the sacrament of the present moment.
I think it's a beautiful phrase. It's entered into contemporary spirituality. We'll be looking
at that, kind of the theory, if you like, of the thing. Though remembering Chesterton who says
there's nothing more practical than a good theory. So if we know the why, then really we're on our way
and the how will work itself out. But in case it doesn't, then Saturday afternoon I'll come up with
what I find helps to come back regularly. It's basically this return to the here and now
throughout the day. How various helps practices that I find helpful. And then Sunday morning at
nine, that will continue. And I hope at that point we can also share if, and again, it's not a heavy
load on anyone. If someone doesn't want to share, that's fine. But if anyone comes up with some
helps that I haven't mentioned or some obstacles that I haven't mentioned, it might be good
to bring it to consciousness to discuss. So Sunday will basically be a discussion and conclusion.
If no one wants to discuss anything, I've got loads of stuff,
but hopefully it will become participatory at that point.
It is basically a silent retreat. It is a retreat, which doesn't mean that no one can talk
to anyone. This can be a place for quiet talking right here in the chapter room, remembering that
people might be praying not only in the church, but right outside on the bench in front of the
Marian icon. So this is a good place for talking or down the meditation wall or in the bookstore,
again, usually though fairly quietly. But if someone's on the bench, on the wall,
there's several benches there, maybe not go up because they might want to be quiet. Or if someone
is walking alone, one can greet them quietly. We want to offer this great gift of silence,
which is a real privileged medium for entering in the here and now. If I'm barraged by
noise, it becomes more difficult. But in the sound of silence, it becomes more easy to live
the here and now. Then Sunday at 11, for those who can stay on, there's the Eucharist.
And then at 1230, there's the communal lunch, which they're speaking at. And you're all invited
to that. Think about if you can stay and if you want to come. I'll need to take a show of hands.
You might want to think about it tonight. But is there anyone here who's already clear that they
will be here for lunch on Sunday? Could you put up your hands high? Yes. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,
10, 11, 12, 13. Okay, so I'm going to put down for 13. And then if someone tomorrow decides they
haven't put up their hand, but they definitely do want, let me know. And if someone drops out,
please let me know that I'll sign up for that. Well, that's basically our conference this evening.
I'd like to finish with a quote from St. Therese of Lisieux. She was outstanding for living in the
present moment. The present moment was often for her pretty dark, pretty grunge. She had a terrible
sickness. Life in the convent was not that exciting. The other sisters were not that brilliant.
But she came to find that as her privileged place. She said, I prefer the dreariness of the daily
to ecstasy. Because there's something real and grounding about the daily, also in its routine,
etc. But this is another phrase from her. And with this phrase, we might then depart in quiet.
It is such folly to pass one's time fretting, instead of resting quietly on the heart of Jesus.