The Present Moment

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Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-22

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Frontispiece

The Present Moment.

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.

A word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope.

A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to the hear the good news within the present moment.

Presence

‘In Thy Presence There is Fullness Of Joy.’ (Psalm 16).

In the Present, the present moment, come with me, to become open again, open to Presence.   Around you, yes, racism and misogyny and sexism and xenophobia and rapacity and mendacity and perversity and predation.  Yes. So, all the moreso, your being hungers for Presence. Presence, as our Psalm 16 acclaims this morning, the fullness of joy.  Simchat’ my Rabbi and friend tells me.  It means joy. Simchat Torah. Serve the Lord with Joy. Come with me, aside, just a moment.

Come with me, aside, just a moment, to recall one morning, an early morning early in August this year, wherein there was an experience of Presence.

The coffee was percolating in the cottage kitchen.  Wait for it with me, why don’t you, and come sit down on the living room couch.  Through the front open windows you might hear the lapping of the lake water against the shoreline, carried by a steady breeze out of the west, north west.  Most of the time, there, the wind comes from the west, blowing Midwestern weather through us and on to Boston. The lap, lap, lap continued, somewhat in rhythm with and somewhat out of rhythm with, the music of Liszt by radio.  The water and the waves are there all the time, background music to the day every day. We should carry some summer into winter. This day you could hear the surf, though surf is too much of a word for that little lake. Just the steady lap, lap, lap of the water on the shore.

The quiet (can you hear it?) was full.  There was and is no sound, other than natural sound, most of the time, mid-week, in the mornings there.  Little to no traffic on the road or on the water; little to no talk, on the road or on the water. The sound of the silence is the most pronounced audition of the day, in such contrast to our life really anywhere else.  A gull now and then will sing out—our five year-old granddaughter has learned nearly exactly to mimic the gull song, ‘Gina’s’ song, she calls it, as she names all gulls Gina. The murmuring of the blessed classical music, soft but audible, rumbles, morning by morning.  

You are, as I was, unusually, all alone.  It can be discomfiting, especially for the extroverts among us, that lonely quiet.  For some weeks, with two days excepted, we had the full joy of some assortment of grandchildren, as few as one, as many as seven, and their parents, as few as one as many as six, and friends, neighbors, visitors, in sixes and sevens, all.  Jan though had gone away the day before, to see our daughter, to make a call on my elderly mother, to lunch with old friends, and to see her former work colleagues. So the company I kept for a day and night and a day was my own. It can be discomfiting, especially for the extroverts among us, that lonely quiet.  

With the coffee susurrating, sit for moment, and feel the cool breeze through the windows, and hear, though not as a focused listening, the lap, lap, lap of the water on the shoreline.  That morning you could feel and see faintly, a storm brewing out of the west, full clouds coming dark with rain, but still a distance off. I picked up the book I was reading, where it had been left the quiet night before, following a solitary dinner, prepared by, made by, and pre-cooked by Jan, warmed and consumed alone by me.  The book is that of Paul Theroux, Deep South, his masterful journal and reflection on a year of travels due south of his home on Cape Cod.  You may have known him from his earlier book, The Mosquito Coast, and from reviews of his other two dozen.  This one had been casually left by my dear friend Jon Clinch, himself a world renowned writer, author of Finn, Kings of the Earth, and several other novels.  ‘You might like this’ Jon said, following the fireworks of July 4.

That morning, the book was open to a passage about Julius Rosenwald.  Rosenwald became the head of Sears, Roebuck in 1909. He was the son of German-Jewish immigrants.  Most have not ever heard of him. Theroux’s book is in the great tradition of travel books. You may have loved John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.  You may have loved William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways.  Well, Theroux apparently did too, and set out to visit the least known part of America, to him, the deep south.  He comes along poor country roads, and the stories along those roads, with the clean, bright eyes of a genuinely interested visitor, a Yankee a long way from home.  And he, Theroux, revels in what he finds. By the help of an African American barber, chef, and preacher, he finds the story of Rosenwald. Julius Rosenwald gave his substantial fortune to build rural schools for black children in the deep south.  They have a particular architecture, fit for their role and setting, large glass windows facing the southern sun, open and flexible rooms and walls to be used for many different needs, and a distinctive aspect given by those at Tuskegee who planned them.  How many? Five thousand. There are 5000 Rosenwald schools in 15 states, the first built in 1917. Rosenwald died in 1932. He gave his fortune to poor black children in the rural deep south.

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?

For some reason, with the breeze blowing, and now the dark clouds somehow headed north and away, with Franz Liszt’s meditative music alive and round about (he whose name you can never recall whether to spell with an s or with a z—(which is it choir?)  because—it’s both!), this little account of Rosenwald, in Theroux’s graceful hand, choked me, moved me. I think it would do so for you too.

Once I had a high school meeting set with a black preacher and his church in Syracuse.  My mother, lightly but sternly, said as I left something like this: You should try to appreciate what those good people in that church have had to live with down there on the south side of Syracuse, you want to be respectful of what others have been through. None of us in this country, even those of us educated at Nottingham High School, Bob, or going on Ohio Wesleyan University, Bob, has really ever had enough education about slavery, about what the conditions of that 250 year hell were, about what the ongoing effect to this day in the 150 years since have been, about how this country and its notable capitalism, and the very sky line of our dear city, the making of American Capitalism and every dollar still swirling in its rinse basin today, came in part from stolen land and slave labor, the trail of tears and the middle passage, the five arable states of the new south and 4 million chattel slaves—beaten, raped, lynched, chained—to till it.  Even your or I, Bob, could make money with free land and free labor. And our economy still depends on the same two features, abuse of the environment and abuse of labor, to make the profits demanded by the market. We walk through it every day, and hardly notice. How do we do this? She said.

These are the kind of memories a breeze, a little music, and a quiet morning can conjour.

Now with the coffee almost done, and the reading of Theroux in motion, the lap, lap, lap again in the breeze, the lap, lap, lap again, from the lakeshore, the lap, lap, lap of, well, the present moment.   For three generations now our family has been itinerant, moving from church to church, from pulpit to pulpit, from town to town and from hidden communal misery to hidden communal misery. Every town, every city, has secret failures, as every heart has secret sorrows.  So the lake, the very modest little lake, and the cottage, the very small humble cottage, the north western tip of Appalachia about which the most remarkable thing to say is how little it has changed since 1959, becomes a place of reverie, a place of memory, a place of home life, the place called home.  Home is such a big word. That also means it is a place where hard memories are present and can be faced. Hard things. Accidents. Mistakes. Betrayals. Deaths. Losses. Failures. On this morning, in the lap, lap, lap, and with the Liszt, Liszt, Liszt, and in the breeze, perhaps mainly the breeze, with the coffee brewed, these readily come up to mind in the morning, if they haven’t already made their nocturnal appearance in the buzzard wildness of dreams.  The water on the shore brings a steady reminder that life gets lived in the aftermath of disappointment. The breeze from the west, with and without raincloud, brings the confidence that even the hurt, the shame of the wrong can be endured. The music, light and lingering, brings along the recollection of happiness that is more true for its injury in sorrow, its debasement in waste, its limitation in grief.

Let us stop, here.  In the little air, in the lap, lap, lap, in the dead quiet.  In the present moment. There. This is what the Psalm means. This is what prayer touches.  This is what the divines felt. This is what Ralph Harper wrote about, in his treatise, On Presence.  This is what old Huston Smith then of MIT said of God, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…We are in good hands, and so it behooves us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of love.  This is what Alistair Macleod depicted in his stories of Nova Scotia, concluding, all of us are better when we’re loved.  This may be what my Dad meant when he said that he had never seen anyone die fearing death.  This is what the black cold of the Pyrenees was saying to me, about vocation, in the deep winter of 1974.  This is what you carry into surgery, as the anesthesia kicks in. This is the miracle of the present moment.  Presence. Hope has a handsome son named Presence. Wordsworth: Eternity in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower.  Hammarskjold; ‘God does not die on the day we cease to believe in a personal Deity, but we die on the day our lives cease to be illumined by a radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder whose source lies beyond all reason.’

Chesterton: the world does not lack for wonders, but only for a sense of wonder. This is the refutation, at the last, of disenchantment by enchantment.  This is the overflowing giddiness of the getting up morning hour of the day when the stars begin to fall of the of the light shining in darkness that has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory in the face of…the present moment.  Psalms: 1, 19, 22, 23, 33, 46, 51, 61, 95, 96, 100, 121, 139. Psalm 16, in Thy presence there is fullness of joy.

It was only a half-second.  It was only an un-holdable, ungraspable flicker.  It was only the breeze and the book and the coffee and the music, the lake and the Liszt, and the memory and the lap, lap, lap of the water on the shoreline.

Take with you this week a sense of presence.  Take with you this week a feeling of presence.  Take with you this week a quickened apperception, awareness of the gift of one day, one day, one day, lap, lap, lap.  Take with you this week the spirit, given in the present moment. And practice, with Brother Lawrence of old, the presence of the good, the presence of God.  Do so here at Marsh Chapel. Sunday evening, right here, with prayers and spirituals sung by the Inner Strength Gospel Chorus.  Monday, right here, the compline quiet and sturdy liturgy. Tuesday, right here, with creative pause. Wednesday, right here, with a guitar at 11am in the morning and a sung eucharist  at 5:30 in the evening. Thursday noon, right here, and maybe especially, with quiet, silent silence. (The best thing at Marsh Chapel is ’nothing’—we leave the sanctuary open in silence, and open to…Presence.)

And what of pressure, Hope’s other handsome son?   The pressure toward the good, in the question of the Rich young Ruler today—‘what must I do?’.  For that, we must come back next Sunday, when the Gospel of the Present Moment is acclaimed, not only in Presence, but also within Pressure, the pressure to love.

 

Coda

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to hear the good news within the present moment.

A word of faith in pastoral voice toward a common hope.

A word of faith in a pastoral voice toward a common hope.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

Hope has two handsome sons, Presence and Pressure.  Both meet you in the Present Moment.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

The presence of Love.  The pressure to Love. The presence of Good.  The pressure toward Good.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

The Present Moment.  

Lift up your hearts in the present moment, to the hear the good news within the present moment.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

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