Recently I rediscovered a "secret" that's been known for thousands of years, taught in the sacred wisdom of many cultures including my own, written about in hundreds of books (some I've read!). It's something I've learned and taught, preached and practiced, and repeatedly forgotten.
I totally forgot it during this difficult winter. Stuck at home, I stared at the ice and snow and willed winter to be over. Impatiently demanding the end of bad weather, I didn't enjoy the free time the ice and snow gave me.
My lack of peace came from rejecting the present, wanting to be in a wished-for future.
Then just before Christmas, a dear friend was diagnosed with a rare stage 4 cancer. Christmas was holy but hardly merry, as I prayed for the best possible outcome: "When the chemotherapy is over, the cancer's over too!"
My prayers were all focused on my wishes for her future, largely ignoring what's happening right now.
Concentrating on the outcome, I missed seeing how her illness has brought so much joy into her daily life. The outpouring of love and support has made each day rich and wonderful. Taking the healing journey one day at a time, she has found joy in receiving acts of love, and in thanking all who have helped.
I have decades of experience working with people in crisis, to help them stay in the present moment and not give in to either magical thinking or premature grief about what might happen. But it took me weeks to reconnect with what my faith has taught me.
I finally rediscovered "the secret" while reading the blog of a young woman also facing a very difficult cancer diagnosis (are there any easy ones?). As she poured out her fears about possibly not seeing her child grow up, a wise friend said: "Don't skip to the end."
That's the secret: Don't skip to the end; stay in the present moment, in the "now."
This is what I had forgotten. The confinement of a harsh winter was not about what I could not do for days on end, it was about what I could do with the gift of every day's unscheduled time. The healing journey for my friend is not about a sprint to the finish line, but a daily journey of faith and love and joy.
"Don't skip to the end." Stay in the "now."
The scripture of my faith tradition commands us to pay attention to what's happening, to look, to listen, to discern the signs of God's presence in daily life, even in circumstances we really don't want. The power of God's love is here, working in our hearts and in our communities, but we need to take notice and go where it leads us. Transformation to a better outcome can only happen when we pay attention to God at work right now.
In the biblical story of Moses and the burning bush, Moses asks God what to say if he's asked God's name: "I Am," says God, not "I was" or "I will be." God is with us, in the here and now. Whatever is happening, God is with us to reveal opportunities for showing love, giving support, working for justice, enjoying creativity, healing and serving.
It's easy to say that all we have is today, but it's also easy to "skip to the end," to put our awareness onto the wished-for future. But God's power to transform our lives is found in the present moment, where I Am waits for us to show up now.
The Rev. Janet Griffin is the congregational developer for the Southwest region of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, Wash.