Letter 45: God is in the Silence and in the Now

When we reach at times, however fleetingly, the inner silence we become aware of the presence of God through the feeling of peace and love. We will have left behind all thoughts, which keep us chained to the past and the future, and arrive at the Now, the present moment. As Meister Eckhart said: “Everybody who wants to be sensitive to the Highest Truth ….must be….conscious of neither ‘before’ nor ‘after’, unhindered by their achievements, uninfluenced by any idea they ever understood, innocent and free….there is only one Now. Look!’

‘Living in the present moment’ seems for many in our time ‘New Age’ advice. Many have heard about this way of being from books like Eckhart Tolle ‘The Power of Now’.But it is not ‘New Age’ it is a very ancient teaching in many of the main religions and wisdom traditions. John Main’s teaching on meditation with its advice to let go of thoughts and images and pay one-pointed attention to your prayer word, leading to the inner silence and thus staying in the present moment, is a well-established discipline coming from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who based their life of prayer on the teaching of Jesus. The thoughts we leave behind in meditation/prayer are ‘anxious thoughts’ about the future or anxiety coming from the past, which actually obscure the present moment. Just listen to Jesus saying in Matt 6: 25: “Therefore I bid you put away anxious thoughts about food and drink to keep you alive, and clothes to cover your body. Surely life is more than food, the body more than clothes.” Only by leaving our thoughts behind can we reach the point where human ordinary time and the Divine timelessness intersect, as T S Eliot puts in the ‘Four Quartets’ so beautifully:

“Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint 

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time.
Music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.

These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses;
and the rest is prayer,
observance, discipline, thought and action.
And right action is freedom from past and future also.

St Augustine also pondered the question of the meaning of time in ‘Confessions’ (Book XI 17): “What then is time?.....Now what about…..past and future: in what sense do they have real being, if the past no longer exists and the future does not yet exist? As for present time, if that were always present and never slipped away into the past, it would not be time at all; it would be eternity.” A little further on in the same chapter he comes to the conclusion: “There are three tenses or times: the present of past things, the present of present things, and the present of future things....memory...attention...expectation.”

So all is only the Now, the present moment. It is our thoughts that separate time into past and future, obscuring the present moment and thus the Divine Reality. Not only Jesus and these Desert Hermits but Christian Mystics of all ages bring out the importance of the link between the present moment and the presence of the Divine. We already heard Meister Eckhart’s words coming from his own spiritual experience. The importance of the link between the Present moment and the Divine Reality being Love is very clear in the prayer of Bernard of Clairvaux: “Father, help me to realize that now is eternity and that there is only the dimension of the now in which to awaken to Thy unquenchable love that will not let me go. Strip me of all further evasion and postponement, that this very hour I may abandon my heart to thee.”

It is not only being in the present moment in prayer that is important but also in everyday life. The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn emphasizes the importance of keeping the attention in the present moment in everything we do. To illustrate this he quotes a story of Tolstoy about a king: ‘The king asked a wise man for the answers to three questions: ‘What is the best time to do anything? Who are the most important people to do it with? What is the most important thing to do at all times’? The response he got was perhaps especially for people of our time unexpected: ‘The most important time is now; the most important person is always the one you are with now; the most important thing to do is to make the person standing by your side happy.’ Love for others and for the Divine becomes possible because by paying attention we enter the inner silence and meet our true self, a spark of the Divine.

Kim Nataraja