Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Present

I was reading this post about being a mom and there were some ideas that struck me in these two paragraphs:
          There has been no weirder gauge of my own life’s progress than Julian and that’s only becoming more obvious as he gets older. Julian basically acts to highlight everything about myself that needs or needed shaking up. As a byproduct of my punctilious life-planning, I used to think things like “It’ll be better when ______” or “I’ll relax when _________”. I guess I still think this sometimes, like, I struggle to function happily if the house isn’t at least superficially tidy (it’s a strange curse), but on the whole, I’ve learned how to live in the moment. Babies change and grow so much and so quickly and that serves as a very physical reminder that time stands still for no man. Perhaps I’m just slow, but it’s taken this very obvious lesson for me to learn how to really appreciate a moment with no thought for the future. Julian’s ever-changing life has peppered mine with moments in which I’ve taken mental pause and tried hard to revel in that moment deeply enough that I’d never forget it. It’s just simple stuff. Like how Julian’s breath felt on my cheek when he was just days old. Or how he looked this morning when he presented me with a ball of tin-foil he’d been scrunching. I think that’s been the biggest transformation for me. Julian proves how fleeting life is, and I’ve become more determined to stop rushing it. Being forced to acknowledge that time waits for no man has also compelled me to realise that I actually have very little control.
          Human beings are weird; most of Western society is built on maintaining the illusion of having control, but in reality, we don’t have much. From the locks on our front doors to the time increments we set meetings at (from Fraction of the Whole), they’re all just symbols of safety and control. Watching Julian change so quickly as made me realise that I have very little control over what he does. I can’t do anything about him growing up other than try to equip him for the process. He’ll eventually make his own life choices and be his own person and as much as I want to protect him from absolutely everything I consider a potential danger, I can’t and shouldn’t. 
I think the ability to live in the present and to let go of the need for control is at the crux of real happiness.

In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis works through the idea of living in the present in a more developed way. It is explained that while we "live in time" God "destines" us for eternity -- so while we must think of eternity we must also think of "the Present."
For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.
We are tempted to live in the past and it the future, and in fact, "thought about the Future inflames hope and fear" because it is "unknown"...and so we think of it in vague imaginations or a myriad of distorted "unrealities." I do this all the time -- imagining all the different things that could happen to me;  things that I don't want (and I set myself up to worry) or things that I do (and I set myself up for disappointment).

Yes, even in dreaming of good things, even in positive "planning the morrow's work" we can slip into giving "the Future [our] hearts" and placing our treasure in it. Expecting too much of happiness/blessings/etc. from what is down the road puts too much pressure on the future. We become "perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered 
[us] in the Present." 

It is true that "the phrase "living in the present" is ambiguous" because it does not mean just present tranquility or complacency. What it really should get at is an awareness that the future may bring many trials and difficulties, so we ought to be actively "praying for the virtues, wherewith to meet them, and meanwhile concerning [ourselves] with the Present because there, and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell."
[God's] ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him
This is where letting go of that need for control comes in -- of learning to turn thoughts/concerns/hopes of and for the future over to God. Faith in His control, combined with "the patience or gratitude" of the moment is real peace and leaves us with a genuine capacity for happiness.

P.S. As a side note, I liked how that post I mentioned at the beginning ended:
Finding a love you want to keep and having a family have got to be some of humankinds most refining experiences and I consider myself blessed to have such a jumpstart and opportunity at both. Everyday I feel grateful and kind of undeserving of not only having one, but two major life blessings. I know many people who have neither and I try my utmost to be appreciative.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

the paradox of marriage

This is how Michael Novak, speaking specifically of the covenant of marriage, describes that paradox of freedom found through binding oneself in meaningful promises:

     Marriage is an assault upon the lonely, atomic ego. Marriage is a threat to the solitary individual. Marriage does impose grueling, humbling, baffling, and frustrating responsibilities. Yet if one supposes that precisely such things are the preconditions for all true liberation, marriage is not the enemy of moral
development in adults. Quite the opposite....
     Being married and having children has impressed on my mind certain lessons, for whose learning I cannot help being grateful. Most are lessons of difficulty and duress. Most of what I am forced to learn about myself is not pleasant....
     Seeing myself through the unblinking eyes of an intimate, intelligent other, an honest spouse, is
humiliating beyond anticipation. Maintaining a familial steadiness whatever the state of my own emotions is a standard by which I stand daily condemned. A rational man, acting as I act?...
     My dignity as a human being depends perhaps more on what sort of husband and parent I am, than on any professional work I am called upon to do. My bonds to them hold me back (and my wife even more) from many sorts of opportunities. And yet these do not feel like bonds. They are, I know, my liberation. They force me to be a different sort of human being, in a way in which I want and need to be forced. (Originally from "The Family Out of Favor" by Michael Novak - but first found in an article by Eugene England)