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The Sacrament of the Present Moment

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth,do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:18-19

What fun it was for Rita and me the other night to escape the barrage of news about the national debt, rising unemployment, and political wrangling and see “Midnight in Paris”, a nostalgic movie about nostalgia.  It’s a witty and insightful story about a man who suffers from the wistful notion that Paris in the 20’s was far more wondrous and magical than the world in which he lived.  Gil Pender, played cleverly by Owen Wilson, is a dreamer for whom the romantic ideal of Hemmingway, Picasso, and other artists on Paris’ Left Bank outshines his day to day life.  But by movie’s end he awakens, and the viewer awakens, to the sheer wonder of the present moment.

Nostalgia literally means “severe homesickness,” and was once looked upon as a kind of mental illness.  It originally described someone unable to live in his own time and place.  I have to confess to my own frequent bouts with a virulent strain of nostalgia, as I too suffer homesickness for past times and places.  Often when my day is difficult or just monotonous, I can imagine living in the Bible times, or the time of our nation’s founding, or at least in the relatively peaceable and tranquil time of Ward and June Cleaver.  My nostalgia is chronic.  But I left “Midnight in Paris” with something like a burr under my saddle spurring me to think about my nostalgia for other times.

As I have been thinking about nostalgia, the words of today’s text from Isaiah keep echoing in my mind:  “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” At first reading these words might strike us as strange as so much of the Bible is about remembering the past.  Again and again Scripture calls us to remember the things that God has done.  In fact, in the verses immediately preceding today’s text (43:8-17) God specifically calls for His people to remember the “former things”.  Then God recites the wonders of the Exodus redemption and how He freed His people from the bondage of Egypt, made a way for them in the wilderness, and brought them safely to the Promised Land.

Then with a sudden shift God calls on His people not to stay stuck in the past:  “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” This can seem like a contradiction.  But actually today’s text is calling us to a new openness to the present, by asking us not to fixate on the past, but rather watch for God who is “about to do a new thing”.  And God promises that the new thing He is doing will be so wonderful that the “former things” will not be remembered.

Sometimes God’s people can so focus on what they consider the “good old days” that they are unable to see the wondrous things God is doing now.  Even in our churches we can talk so much about what God did in the past, that we do not look for Him today.  We often lock up God in nostalgia and exclude Him from the present.

Notice how God’s words bristle with energy as He says that the new thing He is doing “now springs forth”.  Today, right where we live, God’s new work is already breaking forth.  “Do you not perceive it? It is possible for people not to perceive it.  With minds stuck in the past, or stuck in how they think God should work, they are unable to see God’s wonders all around.

God promises us that each day we travel through the wilderness of life that He will do a new thing.  He assures that He will make a way “in the wilderness”. Just as He led Israel through the wilderness and cared for them, so He will care for us.  He does not promise to spare us the wilderness, but He does promise to guide us all the way.  Yes, there will be problems, crises, and heartache, but even now God’s new thing springs up before us.  We have not passed this way before, but He will always make a way.

“This is the day the Lord has made and I will rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)  This is the best time to be alive because God is doing a new thing!  While I will always be nostalgic and will savor the good memories of people and times past, I know that today God is doing wondrous things.  He promises that each day can be an adventure with Him.

Will we perceive it?

Grace and peace–Tim

Photo by satosphere

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