Be Here Now
I get up each morning with our puppy Bella, take her out, and then the two of us crash on the living room sofa: she sleeps on top of my legs while I scan my phone for overnight emails and my newsfeed on Facebook. The other morning I discovered that as a faithful Christian I need to be up in arms over this red Starbuck cup as it is the opening salvo in this year’s alleged, “War on Christmas.” Even at 5:30 in the morning I am awake enough to look at that and say, “Really? Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead so I could get angry, protest and boycott a coffee shop over a paper cup? As the morning unfolded the story was on all 12 flat-screens at the gym. As I read here in church a few weeks ago, I needed a trip to the Bunny Planet!
Fortunately I think our lessons for today offer some perspective on this kind of thing. The reading from the Book of Daniel 12: 1-3 dates from the time of the Greek occupation of Israel about two centuries before Christ, and reflects on the time of the 6th century Babylonian Captivity. It is an example of Hebrew Apocalyptic literature with the main theme being: just as YHWH, the God of Israel, had saved Daniel and Israel from captivity in Babylon, so God will deliver Israel from the Greek Empire. The Greeks had desecrated the Jerusalem Temple. Sacrifices could no longer be made there. The religious and cultic life of Israel had been halted. So in the final chapter of Daniel, the promise is made, You shall be delivered.
Fast forward to Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem exiting the Temple – which Temple by the time this Gospel of Mark was written already lay in ruins at the hands of the Roman Empire. The disciples are pictured in chapter 13 as awed by the grand scale of the Second Temple: “…what large stones and what large buildings,” they say. The likes of which they had never seen in the region around Galilee! The buildings and stones effectively conveyed the very real sense that Jerusalem was the center of power: political and religious authority dwelt among these great buildings.
Jesus warns them not to be fooled, not to be so impressed, for soon, he says, not one stone “will be left her upon another,” as it is to this day. Then, of course, they want to know when it will happen and what will be the sign or signs. Essentially his usual kind of enigmatic answer boils down to this if we were to read the all of chapter 13: don’t worry about it; it’s in my Abba’s, my father’s, hands; just do the work I have given you to do – feed people, heal people, and proclaim the good news that God’s Kingdom, God’s Shalom is even now breaking in. Things are already changing. Be part of the change you want to see here and now. New Testament texts radically change the nature of apocalyptic promise: instead of You shall be delivered, the message in Christ is, Your deliverance is already under way!
I believe this is one way of saying what most religious traditions have said throughout the last four thousand years: do not worry about tomorrow; do not worry about yesterday; be here now; dwell in the eternal Now,in the present moment, for this is where we are meant to be. This is where we are meant to love God, love neighbor, and accept that we are God’s Beloved. It is significant that ancient Israel was literally the crossroad of the Silk Road which meant that people from all over the world travelled through there. The Buddha, Lao Tso, Zoroaster, not to mention the Hebrew prophets, Socrates and others had already begun the revolution in human thinking and world view – all of which was passing through the world of Jesus every day.
What I take out of this today is that these Red Cups are simply a metaphor for all kinds of unimportant so-called issues trying to monopolize our time and attention. What I believe is our best practice for not getting hooked into worrying about when the Day of Lord is coming is to be about the things God in Christ calls us to do. And what Jesus does more than just about anything else is to take time every day off by himself to be still and be with Abba, his Father. One such practice found in every religious tradition is what some call Mindfulness Meditation, Centering Prayer, or Contemplative Prayer. Some Buddhists call it sitting Zazen. A practice which by any other name usually means sitting still and simply being attentive to one’s breathing.
Breath in the ancient world was understood as the source of life. We breathe in, we breathe out, and this sustains us; when we stop breathing, life stops. It has always fascinated me that Hebrew, Greek and Sanskrit all have a single word that means breath, spirit and wind: ruach, pneuma, and prana. In the Bible ruach became associated with YHWH, the God of Israel. We now know that everything in creation did come from one source – all that exists throughout the universe is made up of particles from either the Big Bang, or exploding stars, which may be the same thing.
Further, current scholarship suggests that the name of the God of Israel, Yahweh, was in part an attempt to imitate human respiration: the sound of breath coming in and going out. If this is true, the first word we say when we are born, and the last word we say when we expire for the last time is the name God. Richard Rohr in his book, The Naked Now: Learning to see as the mystics see, points out that there is no Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Taoist or Buddhist way of breathing. There is no American, Russian, Chinese or Afghani way of breathing. There is no rich, poor or middle class way of breathing. We are all breathing the same air, the same particles, that have been in existence since the beginning of the universe. We are breathing, and in fact we are made up of, star dust. The playing field is leveled with this single realization, this single practice of attention to our breathing in Contemplative Prayer. It is the gateway to living in the present moment. It is
a practice that frees us from worry about the future or the past, but rather centers us in the here and now. Or, as Richard Alpert, or Baba Ram Dass as he is known today, has put it: Be Here Now.
As simple as that sounds, it can be hard work. So much in the world about us intentionally tries to take us out of the eternal Now so as to sell us some product, some idea, some ideology that will save us from Red Cups destroying our Christmas.
I used to begin each class at St. Tim’s with a minute or two of Mindfulness Meditation or Contemplative Prayer. Sit still, feet on the floor, hands in your lap. Close your eyes. Repeat a word or phrase (mantra) a few times, and then simply be attentive to each breath in and each breath out. Sit for two, three, five, ten or even twenty minutes. Then slowly return, perhaps repeating the same word or phrase you said at the beginning. If you are uncomfortable closing your eyes, and that’s OK, just try what my yoga teachers call soft focus a few feet on the ground or floor in front of you.
Back when I was younger this sort of prayer or meditation was considered far out! Now there is science to back up the claims that this truly improves our well-being, improves overall health, sharpens the mind, and helps to detach or unhook us from all the distractions that try to monopolize our attention. Like our myriad electronic devices. I was waiting for a plane in Kansas City, and as I looked at the queue every single person in the dual lines at Southwest were eyes glued to their phones, scrolling with their thumbs! For this, I thought, we evolved to have opposable thumbs? Seriously?
Be here now. Do not worry about the future or that coming Day of the Lord. We shall be delivered just as Daniel and Jesus were delivered! Focus on the present moment and the work God in Christ gives us to do. That will be enough for today. Tomorrow we can always begin again. Amen.