Recently I read an article where the author lamented the “disappearance of here.” With our smart phones and other electronic devices, he said, we can easily be somewhere else rather than where we actually are.
The article was accompanied by a picture of three young college women sitting under some trees on campus with a wide expanse of lawn in front of them. The picture looks almost idyllic until you suddenly notice that the women are not conversing with each other or even enjoying the beauty around them. Instead, with their heads bent down, they are all texting on their cellphones. In a way we can say: they are no longer “here,” that is, with each other under the trees.
Similarly, have you ever been out to lunch with a friend, engaged in a good conversation, and your friend’s cellphone rings and she answers it? For a few moments at least she is no longer “here” but with the caller. Even if she makes the call short, often the call has disturbed the natural flow of the conversation.
The disappearance of “here” can have disastrous consequences. How many serious and even fatal car accidents have been attributed to someone texting while driving? They were more focused on their phones than on the here and now of driving a car. And what about that woman walking and texting in the mall who fell right into a fountain of water? She said she never saw it. Understandably, because she was no longer present to her here and now.
I must be clear: I am not against cellphones and other electronic devices. After all, I regularly enjoy the convenience
of my cellphone and Kindle. And I fully realize how important cellphones can be—especially in an emergency. But I think there’s a time for turning them off. There’s a time for not being available—for example, during meals, while strolling in a park, while relaxing with family or friends, or (dare I say?) while praying. Otherwise, we end up giving more attention to our callers who are not here than to the person or persons right in front of us. Or we can fail to notice and appreciate the “here and now” we are actually inhabiting.
Why is it so vital to be attentive to the here and now? In the early 18th Century, the French Jesuit Jean Pierre de Caussade coined the phrase “the sacrament of the present moment.” Notice, he called the present moment a sacrament? Why? Because it is precisely in the here and now that we primarily encounter God and God’s will for us. Caussade wrote: “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance.” Another French writer, a 20th Century laywoman, Simone Weil, said something similar. She warned against “daydreaming.” By daydreaming she meant “not being present to where one is.” Weil says that love demands that we be present to the here and now. Love requires that we embrace life as it is showing up in the here and now—even when that here and now is painful.
Jesus showed us how important it is for us to be attentive to the here and now. Remember his parable about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)? The rich man was not an evil person. He didn’t mistreat the beggar Lazarus. He just didn’t notice him lying outside his door every day, although the beggar was covered with sores and begged for scraps of food. How could the rich man be so blind to Lazarus’ misery? We don’t know. (I don’t think he was texting!) But maybe a more important question to ask is this: are we
sometimes blind to the misery of people right “outside our door”? How are we responding to the sufferings of others we encounter in our “here and now”?
In talking about being present to the here and now, I must add this: I believe that periodic “escapes” from our here and now are necessary and even healthy. It is good to get lost in a good book or movie, for example. Or to go on a vacation. Even when we make a retreat, we are escaping our ordinary here and now and replacing it with an intense here and now of prayer, quiet, solitude, and reflection. But the purpose of these “escapes” is to help us come back to our ordinary here and now again with greater energy, vision, courage, and (above all) love!
Suggested practice: Try to be more attentive to your here and now this week.
The song for today is “Everyday God” by Bernadette Farrell. It reminds us that God is, indeed, present in all the here’s and now’s of our every day.
What are your thoughts and feelings about some of the issues raised in this reflection?
What helps you to be more attentive to the here and now?
Do any of the words or phrases of the song speak to you today?