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Past, Present, and Future

Here at First Presbyterian Church, our June worship theme was Treasuring and Tending to Our Past. Next month's theme is Openness to the Future. But in his children's sermon Sunday morning, Jon Ludwig pointed out that the only place we occupy in time is the present, not the past, and not the future. Pretty shrewd!

And yet we do spend a lot of mental time in places elsewhere than the present, don't we? We worry about the future. We nurses grudges. We feel guilty about mistakes we made in the past.

In his children's sermon, Jon asked the kids if they could be still and focused solely on the present for one minute. I think the actual amount of time was more like 30 seconds. It's hard to do! Our minds wander off. We make plans. We recall experiences good and bad. And sometimes we get into those ruts of worry, regret, and resentment. The mind ruminates.

Mindfulness, says Wikipedia, "is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training." Like Yoga, Mindfulness has roots in eastern religions, but in recent decades, the practice has been secularized and introduced to a wider audience. Mindfulness has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and even coping with the side effects of chemotherapy.

I'm all for such practices if they help individuals experience less worry and fear. There is a similarity between Mindfulness practices such as focusing on one's breathing and the Christian practice of Centering Prayer. In Centering Prayer, one seeks to be alone before God and attentive to God. One quiets the mind by silently repeating a sacred word (God, Love, Truth) for a time. When you become aware that thoughts have captured your attention, you return gently to the sacred word. I've found that Centering Prayer helps me to remain calm in stressful situations and to live with fewer regrets about the past and fewer fears for the future. In other words, to live in the present.

Another way to live in the present is to remember that Jesus Christ is "the one who is, who was, and who is to come." The cross of Christ stands behind us, and the resurrected Lord goes before us. The shadow of his cross falls over our past, our history, and the skeletons in our closet. In him, our former sins are forgiven, and in him we can find strength to forgive. And beyond what we fear in this life--whether it's personal calamities such as our deaths or the deaths of loved ones, or wars, environmental crises, or social injustices--the Risen Christ stands, luring and drawing history toward a blessed goal. When we trust that Christ envelops our past and our future, we can live humbly and lovingly in the here and now.

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