Friday, July 26, 2013

Learning the Present

     Have you ever sat by the airplane window and watched the world go by, civilization passing beneath you? Our houses are in rows, surrounded by roads, by stores; neat grids arranged by city planners, with a confined bit of nature thrown in to give us a break from concrete and brick and stone, our attempts at a foundation that will have some sort of staying power, remain a hundred years, a thousand years. Even the countryside has no uncharted places it seems, it is all broken up by roads and farms, neatly planted fields, man-made ponds with corners and irrigation ditches in straight lines.
     The roads weave about, this one over, that one under. If you lifted them up they would come up like a child's train-track set, all in one piece, woven together and soon you would have the whole network of asphalt and concrete in your hands. Perhaps the railroad tracks would come up too and you could peel the transportation system from the country in one good pull, finger and thumb and the interlocked, interwoven methods of our madness thrown aside.

     It's all so flimsy. I feel so safe when I run the paths of our neighborhood, I don't think about it wearing out and being tossed aside like Brio train tracks lifted from the basement carpet. It's only from the air when I see the structures of our humanity from far above that it strikes me how small and weak it is.
     Was this the shape of the earth when as yet no European had set foot here? Don't blink, you'll miss it: the houses will gray, weaken, tumble; the streams will grow to creeks, the ponds will fill in, the trees will take over or be cut down, the city will fall and another will rise in its place. And all the while a million hearts will be born and beat in solidarity and a few will awake to the present in order to love and ache and grow, break, and all will be replaced as they slow and die or suddenly stop. It is all a rising and a falling and we are a speck of eternity. Yet somehow we are here, this NOW does somehow matter.
     Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill laid low. A day to the Lord is a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day.
     Behold, I tell you a mystery, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye we shall be changed. And we who came out of the dust and return to the dust shall be made flesh, we shall be real, and the children of dust shall become men of spirit and truth.
     In the meantime we are the one planet, as Thorton Wilder says, straining away in our orbit around the sun at 64,800 miles per hour. We are careening through the universe in our frightening freedom and it is only if we are awake to know that we shall feel the rapid pull of the earth in motion.


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     Today I wake up to the rain falling steady and my plans of a run dissolve in the drops unceasing along with the hopes of a beach day. This morning I try to count the gifts but I forget so quickly in the hum of the quiet gray day and the conversation. I forget so easily.
     It's hard to remember that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. It's hard to remember that it is now which matters most immensely and my stewardship of the now is all I have. I lose track of that so easily. With only three weeks left here before I move I'm learning to prioritize my time. I'm learning to say "Yes, that's important to me before I go," or "No, that's just not important to me." It's difficult to know which are important to me in such a short span of time and I think about our whole lives, short as they are, and then all of eternity. We are unfortunate creatures, caught between a timeless destiny and a rapidly passing present. I have to learn to use it well, but if I can hardly know what is important for three weeks time, how do I determine what is important for not only a life-time, but for an eternity? How do I keep the vision of the earth rising and falling and the words "twinkling of an eye" before my eyes always?
     And Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." 
     The mystery of living today well lies in stewarding it for the future of eternity.  If I store up treasures in the kingdom, my heart will be set on the kingdom and how it is moving here, today, and I will gain a vision for how it shall have eternal impact. That's the goal, isn't it? To live today well? To live today well not just for today but for tomorrow additionally? To live each moment in such a way that we glorify God and leave fingerprints on the canvas of eternity?

     We can only live today doing our fumbling best to stay in the center of his will, what Corrie ten Boom calls "the only safe place." We live them as purely as we can, trying to remember that this is the present. We try not to worry about tomorrow, just live today, store up for eternity, set our hearts upon the kingdom.

     May we learn the present.

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