Franciscan Spirit Blog

Wired to Be Present

In southern Michigan, I was raised in a religious tradition that used the word grace, but were too afraid to give in to it. Not unlike the faithful band of “believers” in the movie Babette’s Feast who, when offered an extraordinarily generous gift of the feast-of-a-lifetime, make the decision to “taste” the wine, but not “enjoy it.”

I was cajoled to believe in a God who was no different than an alcoholic father. This isn’t hypothetical to me. Yes, I wanted his love, but was never sure which father would show up. So, I did my best to make him smile. And when he did smile, I would feel a shudder, wondering whether it was enough, or what I would do that would make his smile go away.

I know that scarcity affects how we see God. We have been weaned on the belief that our well-being is stuck in scarcity. Requiring us to earn our way out. It is no wonder that scarcity, not sufficiency, becomes our lens and our paradigm and our narrative. Scarcity affects how we see the world. Scarcity affects how we see the present moment.

I must be missing something.

This is too good to be true.

Can I trust this moment?

I know I don’t deserve this.

If grace is dependent on God’s mood or temperament or on my  performance, the scales always tilt. And that never turns out well.

We do well to consider Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s reminder, “We teach children how to measure and how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.”

We savor, because this life, this day, this moment, is a gift.

And we sense wonder and awe because we are grounded in sufficiency.

Living without Fear

I remember leading a retreat with an animated group of teachers—St. Augustine’s in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their day of refueling before a new school year. Our topic, an invitation to create sanctuary, allowing us to honor habits that sustain our well-being.

We began the day going around a circle, each sharing memories from the summer. There were weddings and funerals and trips and reunions and adventures and celebrations in Parisian pubs after a World Cup victory.

“I have a heart condition,” one young teacher began her turn. “And every year I get an MRI for assessment. Because I never know what the news will be, my temptation is caution and apprehension. Because of my condition, and afraid of the worst, I have always kept my physical activity to a minimum. Although I’ll admit that the excuse does come in handy, ‘I’d love to help out, but I have a heart condition.’”

We laughed.

“This year, after a clear MRI, my doctors told me that I needed more activity. Outdoors. Nothing strenuous. But still. Anyway, my summer was very different than normal. I biked and hiked and enjoyed the sky and water and the air. I loved being outdoors.”

Well, I have a confession. I have lived most of my emotional and spiritual life with a heart condition. Because I have lived cautious and afraid, holding back my heart because of what it might cost, or require of me. Or fearing (running from) my brokenness, not believing that an open and broken heart is an invitation to live my days giving, creating, embracing, connecting, savoring, and celebrating. It is no wonder that, too often, I do not see.

Hundreds of years ago, in an era much more fraught than ours, St. Francis learned to live without holding back his heart. His antidote to confusion and paralysis was a return to simplicity, one step at a time, one person at a time, one good thing at a time, the right-in-front-of-you idea of searching for the light even while living with the darkness. His genius was that he saw what was hidden in plain sight. It was so simple it is almost impossible to see; we are wired to be present.

This is an excerpt from Terry Hershey’s new book This is the Life, about embracing life’s present moments. Click below to learn more.

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