One day this week, early in the morning, I was starting my drive in to the hospital, when I noticed that seemingly overnight, all the Bradford pear trees in my neighborhood had burst into full bloom. They’d started the process several days before—first showing small hints of white blossoms and then beginning to spread flowers throughout the tree. But on this morning, in the early light, it looked to me like all the trees together—in unison—had decided to go full blossom overnight. It was so beautiful and inspiring, a lovely and thankful way to start the day.
But as I drove through my blossoming neighborhood, it suddenly occurred to me that they were forecasting thunderstorms later that day, and high winds, too. Oh no, I thought, The trees just bloomed and now the wind will take away their blossoms. It was a bit sad, thinking that all this loveliness might be gone just as quickly as it came. That doesn’t seem fair, somehow, to have your blossoming cut so far short.
I even said a quick prayer for the trees, something like, Dear God, please protect them so their beauty stays at least a little while… And although I didn’t expect to hear anything in response to that, almost immediately an answer bubbled up, in that quiet knowing that comes from the still small voice of the heart. The answer was, “This is the moment.”
Instantly I knew what that meant. This is the moment that the beauty is given. Enjoy it fully. Savor it. Look at it. Take it in. Thank God for it. This is the moment to notice it, to let it touch your heart, and to feel grateful.
You may remember that a while ago, I talked about the book Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson. His book shows how we can be happier by adopting practices that help us be more open to and aware of the good things we experience. He wrote that we miss out on much blessing in our lives because we simply don’t notice it; we rush right on by with our minds focusing on other things. Instead, Hanson suggests we learn to really enjoy good moments—maybe something that makes us smile or lifts our hearts, or an encounter that helped us feel close to someone. Instead of rushing on to the next experience, he suggests we stay with the good moment—the good feelings about that good moment–and let them sink in for a few seconds. That makes the experience more memorable—it stays with us longer– and the enjoyment spreads. Doing this, we begin to notice and savor the blessings, no matter how tiny they may be. It’s like the difference between really tasting something delicious and gobbling it down quickly and wishing you had more. Which of those two moments leaves us feeling grateful? The one where we enjoyed it, tasted it, appreciated it. Savoring the blessing is the key.
Like it says in our Old Testament scripture today, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Not tomorrow, not next week, not when all the bills are paid or the yard is mowed and we finally get the car fixed. Not when things get better or when she finally apologizes or we are able to move beyond this virus. Not then, now. This is the day. This is the hour. This is the moment God has given us to live, to love, to celebrate–to notice and welcome, love and thank God.
It makes me wonder how much simple joy we miss simply because we aren’t noticing all the blessings around us right now. When we worry and fret and stew about things, our minds aren’t focused on what’s happening right in front of us, what we’re feeling with our feet and hands, what we’re tasting, hearing, touching, experiencing. We’re in our heads, lost in swirling thought, not available for whatever good thing God wants to give us or show us now.
In our New Testament reading today, we meet two characters in this same condition. These two men have a good reason to be upset; as they walk along the road to Emmaus, they are discussing with each other the devastating story of the prophet from Nazareth who the chief priests and rulers sent to be crucified the week before. These men, like so many, watched their hopes for a great deliverer crumble. They said, “…we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.” When a stranger joins them and asks what they are talking about, they recount with some disbelief—they can’t believe this man hasn’t heard—all that unfolded over the last several days. They also include this astounding part:
“But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. 24“Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
The stranger says to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all the prophets have spoken!” There’s an exclamation point there, meaning that there is emphasis and maybe even some exasperation in Jesus’ voice. He then goes back to Moses and the prophets and recounts all the things written and prophesied that pointed to Himself, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection.
The men listened attentively to this man, who was obviously a learned teacher. They still don’t recognize him as Jesus. They invite him to stay with them for the evening meal because it’s almost mightfall, and as they sit together at the table, he takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and begins giving it to them. Then, scripture says, at that point “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He vanished from their sight.”
Can you imagine? All that time along the roadway, listening and being attentive to this teacher, but they didn’t recognize him. But it’s in the blessing, breaking, and giving of the bread—in the one-to-one communion we each can have with our Inward Teacher in the present moment–that our eyes open, we recognize his voice, and we grasp the truth—God’s truth, the truth of ever-present grace and love. We are helped more than we know, and God wants to help us know that.
The men on the roadway had been preoccupied and upset, resisting what had happened, caught up in the outrage and hopelessness of it all. Their minds were whirling and confused about the fantastic story the women told, of Jesus’ body missing from the tomb and angels saying he was still alive. And here he was with them—for hours—and they didn’t realize it.
And now, at the table, they recognize him for just a split instant and he vanishes! I wonder what happened to the bread Jesus was holding out to them—did it just drop to the table when he disappeared? Can’t you just see their faces, their mouths open in shock—maybe mid-bite—looking at each other in disbelief? What just happened? Were they dreaming? And yet, deeply they already knew the truth: they affirmed it to one another in a simple, profound way—the same way we, too, know when Christ is present with us:
“Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”
The stirring in our hearts—not the preoccupations of our minds—is where we’ll find proof of the presence of Christ in our lives. It’s in our hearts that we feel the warmth of kindness, we recognize the uplift of inspiration, we sense when tenderness and gentleness are near. Our hearts tell us and we just know. The men’s hearts burned within them, saying, This is the moment, and pay attention.
I’ve mentioned before that at the hospital, when times are normal and we can meet in person, I lead mindfulness groups to help participants learn to become aware of how they are living the present moment. It sounds like such a simple thing, but in reality it’s a challenge to be aware of your life—your immediate life, what is happening right now—in a continuous way. Time and again our minds spiral us off into the future, worrying about this or that, or they drag us back into the past, replaying hurts and upsets and fussing over things long forgotten by everyone else. When our minds are in the past or the future, we are not present, not paying attention, not really living now, in this time, in this moment, in this day the Lord has made. It’s a helpful thing when we begin to notice that.
Something interesting about learning to be mindful is that it impacts our health for the better on just about every scale we can measure. That’s why we have the groups at the cancer center. It lessens our stress. It improves our blood pressure. People with chronic conditions have fewer flare-ups. People with major illness and injuries heal faster. Relationships improve. We become calmer, happier people.
And all because when we are truly here, when we notice and drink in the beauty of all the pear trees blossoming in joy one spring morning, our hearts burn within us and we get a fleeting glimpse of the mystery and miracle of what it really means to be alive, to be blessed, to be loved by our ever-present God.
But when we remember that This is the moment—to appreciate all the blessing, to love the beauty, to feel the joy, to say thank you to God–we can make a different choice that can make a huge difference, opening us to more love, more joy, more blessing. We can turn down the volume on the cycle of thoughts in our minds and instead notice what we feel—with our fingertips, with our skin, on our faces. We notice what we smell. We see and take it in. We listen and hear. We feel our hearts—stirring, maybe whispering, maybe burning within us, telling us something. That’s our doorway to the present moment—the only possible time we can break bread with the Light of Christ in the sanctuary of our hearts.
In closing I’d like to share a poem from the Persian poet Hafiz:
Now Is the Time to Know
Now is the time to know
That all you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God?
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
that this is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
that there is anything
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
- OT Psalm 118: 24
- NT Luke 24: 13-32