Nailed to the Sacrament of the Present Moment

September 18, 2010 § 3 Comments

This blog is following allusions.  Taking side turns to consider turns of phrase and words that provided linkages from one thing to another, thus gradually deepening understanding of all of them.  Thus the circuitous route I am taking in tackling these subjects here.

Allusions to the title above:   I got the idea for this title from Pima Chödrön because of a comment by another trope, which was very helpful.  So I took the book off my shelf and started to read.  Pretty soon she mentioned, with regard to insight meditation (being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings, while accepting them), the words: “nailed to the present moment”.  That set off a lot of thoughts for me:  One blog.  Now this one.  Nailed, of course, made me think of Jesus.  The cross.  Suffering.  Redemption.  Lifting up, as prayer.  And the words “present moment” reminded me of a French spiritual writer, a very helpful one actually, whose book, published long after his death I think, is called:  Sacrament of the Present Moment. That title relates to the genesis of this blog and the reason for this post.  Sacrament.  Priesthood of the Faithful.  Our task in order to grow into that priesthood.

First, let me say right here and now how much I love Buddhism.   And how much I revere the Buddha.  Eastern traditions, and that includes the Orthodox, have long delved into the psychology of the spiritual path.  They’ve nailed it!  In my book.  Indeed the part of the early church that most interests me is the church that developed in northwestern Iraq.  Yes!  Where East meets West.  Lots of similarities in some ways between insight meditation and what the Orthodox call “guarding the heart”.  It’s practically the same thing – to me.  Though I find the word “guarding” to be a mistranslation.  Or maybe I’ve been too much influenced by Buddhism.  To be honest my interest in Buddhism seems never to have dissuaded God from radically breaking into my life.  So I take that as a comfort.  Unless the inbreakings have some other meaning… which I am missing.

The interesting thing about this particular concept, the sacrament of the present moment, is that not long after certain events, recorded here, I had the good fortune of a spiritual adviser who understood me.  That is such a rarity!  Such a blessing.  For two years I was fortunate to have him as a pastor – till he retired.  And when we talked the first time, really talked, he suggested two books, one of which is the one I’ve mentioned above.  Not only that, it was not till after I ordered the book that I found another smaller volume already in my possession – the short one I’ve linked above.   So you see how this is striking my attention.  One thing leading to another.

This time (nearly 6 years ago now) the book really resonated for me.  The concept of the “sacrament” of the present moment really, really seemed important.  The consecration of time.  The sacredness of time.  (Reminding me just now of a lecture I heard, as a Sophomore in college, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, on the sacredness of time – I can recall it still!  He was a holy man, the first man, whose presence conveyed Holy Mystery.  And not the last.) This one concept (and all it held) seemed to point me in the direction I needed right then.

And I think that part of this development I’m bidden to follow, and it would seem to analyze (even in two new blogs I’ve had to start), is connected to this sacrament – of the present moment. So what does this entail?  Very simple actually.  Though the Frenchman, who was a spiritual director to nuns, goes on at length (as it seems his varied pieces of advice were collected by his disciples and no one could allow a word to be edited out, you see).  But in a nutshell (ah, now that reminds me of Julian of Norwich – who had a vision of the world as like a hazelnut in the hand of God…. sorry folks, I can’t help myself!).  Ok, in a nutshell, it means that at every moment, whatever is going on in our life is like a window into eternity, like an intimate connection to Holy Mystery, like a communication between ourselves and the Divine.  Mind you, if you get the book, you will never read those words I’ve written.  I’ve distilled it for you.  In modern prose.  In our modern way of thinking.  And beyond that, for me anyway, this concept of priesthood, this sense that there is an inner liturgy going on in our heart, that every instant, every event, can be viewed as part of our lifting up of the cosmos, part of our prayer on behalf of “the whole world, to the last speck of dust.”

And honestly, isn’t that “sacrament” or inner liturgy, if you will, very much like the Buddhist calling of a Boddhisatva, someone of great compassion, who vows to dedicate their life to saving all beings?

Great Compassion. That is the first task.

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§ 3 Responses to Nailed to the Sacrament of the Present Moment

  • TheraP says:

    Since this post referenced Buddhism in connection with the “great compassion” I am leaving here an interesting quote and link that I ran across this afternoon, in a Cistercian publication on Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th century writer on prayer and mysticism, who was later condemned as a heretic, but whose importance for early Christianity, the Benedictine tradition and in particular its medieval reform by the Cistercians, has recently become evident.

    So here’s the interesting quote, from a 1939 article by Hans Urs von Balthazar on the mysticism and metaphysics of Evagrius: “the mysticism of Evagrius was closer to that of Buddhism than that of Christianity.”

    I am no scholar of this period or of the languages in which early monks and hermits and expounders were writing. Nor am I a scholar or historian of Buddhism. Nevertheless I find this description by Balthazar very, very intriguing. Especially in the light of my own experience with holy persons of both traditions, who seem to embody and manifest a “presence” of Holy Mystery.

    • TheraP says:

      Along these same lines I’ve found something noted, which I’ve often seen for myself: That Thomas Merton was struck by the way that how the monks of the desert used teaching tales is similar to how Zen monks use them. And I would add that there are teaching tales within the Sufi tradition as well as within the Hasidic tradition. So it seems that mystical paths make use of similar ways of teaching – tales which provoke pondering, which go beyond logic in order to open our eyes, provoking us to question our assumptions. At times in these traditions those who go around provoking questions in others are viewed as crazy. Indeed, there is long tradition within Orthodoxy of the holy fool – someone willingly taking on that role of “craziness” which actually provokes the worldview of those who feel settled, but should be unsettled (in order to grow).

      So I’m well aware some of what I my write here may seem provocative – though that’s not purpose in writing. “The heart has its reasons” which transcend the mind or even our personal intentions.

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