Attending to the moment

My latest indulgence is Ruth Haley Barton’s ‘Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership’.  How have I been a Christian for a good ten years and not read this lady before?  I am savouring her writing; this is one of those books which it is probably a crime to read at my usual speed.  Reading the soul through the lens of Moses, every chapter presents challenges and deserves proper attention.

A couple of days ago I read this:

Moses didn’t rush to do anything radical…Instead he stayed with a few things that he did know, the things that kept him grounded in the reality of his own life as it had been given to him…He had space to pay attention to his own life as it had been given to him – the mundane and the miraculous.

I tried to practise that yesterday.  I didn’t really have cause to attend to the miraculous!  But I’ve lived a little more conscious of the mundane.  Again, I return to that thought about the thickness of time, its viscosity almost, which means that it is easier to skate along its surface than to dive into its depths.  Easier to live in the imaginings of the future and replayings of the past.  Easier to think of what could be and what might be and what almost certainly will be.  Easier than to live ‘in the moment’, to enter into it, to experience it.

When I try to focus on the mundane, it feels like trying to focus a microscope on a slide sample.  Not that I have done that since Science GCSEs!  But what I mean is that I nearly manage to tune my heart in to the moment and then somehow my hand slips on the focusing dial and the focus is gone and all I can see is a blur.  So, I manage for a split second to engage with the sounds that I can hear, the things I see, the feeling of the breath going in and out of my body, the smells around me, the feeling of the resistance of the floor against my feet.  Fleetingly, I live in my embodiedness.  And then I am gone; my mind is elsewhere in the past or the future and it is as if the present is irrelevant.  It is as if I try to pierce time, to live consciously in the present, and yet my efforts merely glance off the surface.

I am struck by how hard it is to attend to the present, whether miraculous or mundane.  I am faced with admitting that it is, as Barton suggests, ‘an essential discipline…to craft times of quiet in which we allow God to show us those things that we might otherwise miss’.  It takes time and practice to learn to attend to the moment, to live neither in the past nor the future nor in the idle speculations of what could and might be. 

What will you do about that today, this week, this month?  I’m going to try to be more aware of it.  I know me: I am not going to change overnight on this one!  But I am going to try to savour the moment a little more often than I do now.

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