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The Present Eternity

For the first time in weeks, I woke to the sun in my curtains, and it felt like the break of spring. It may be the Sunshine State, but chill and rain have pushed their way into paradise. As brief as a Florida winter can be, there comes a time when the wet and the gray give way to the sun, and it feels like death working backwards, even though the next wave of rain will come again soon.

The sky is the perfect pale blue. The air is just cool enough to wear a light sweater. Even a few of my neighbor’s pink azaleas had the audacity to bloom.

Today, I’m not holed up in an office, or buried under blankets avoiding the rain, or turning future preoccupations over and over in my mind like a troubling foreign object I found in my yard. Today, I simply take the time for being and dip my fingers in the stream of eternity.

These days I catch myself too often living in the future, for good reasons at least. I can’t wash my hands without catching the flash of a diamond that promises how everything will soon turn upside down. When I’m not trying to work or sleep, my mind tries to skip forward in time. After all, there’s wedding food to taste, guest lists to tweak, shoes to search for. From the growing task lists to help me pull off this party, to packing boxes before moving and making a new family, to choosing napkin colors and cake flavors and what kind of vacuum to put on my registry, everything seems to exist in a sort of rapidly approaching someday that becomes more real with every sunrise.

It’s a someday that’s beautiful and terrifying at once. It’s a someday wrapped in promises I sometimes question my ability to live out.

Isn’t this how it all is though? Is there ever a moment when my time-bound body and soul can step back and see where the frozen past and vaporous future melt together into right now?

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis imagines how this bent obsession with time becomes a devil’s tool of distraction: “The humans live in time, but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

The Present is barely here before it becomes Past. By the time you finish reading this next sentence, a new one will be present. For most of us, if we think about it long enough, we can imagine God standing outside the stream of time, watching over the whole of it, the slow trickling bits and the days that rush by like rapids over rocks. We can mentally assent that he is here, even in this moment, and there, in the past, and further downstream, in all the future moments to come.

And there I am, caught in the flow, too worried about what’s around the bend to appreciate the way right now is cradling me. And isn’t this just the opposite of what God wants for us? “We want a whole race perpetually in the pursuit of the rainbow’s end,” says Screwtape, “never honest, never kind, nor happy now . . .”

So it seems nigh impossible to “live in the present,” as so many motivational posters would proclaim, when so much of it is fleeting, flowing, disappearing in the past and hurtling toward an unseen future.

But today, for now, I see the break in the clouds, and on this short mid-winter day, I take advantage of the sun and the free time. Instead of attending to the task list, the errands, the worries, or the self-doubts, I’ll take a cup of coffee and a book and some ink on paper. For now, this is my Sabbath. I redeem the time and hope to carve out something holy.

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