(Lance Berkman's 10th inning game-tying single, Game 6, 2011 World Series, October 27, 2011, courtesy of Yahoo Sports)
(This piece originally appeared in Daily Episcopalian on Tuesday, November 3, 2011)
From the opening lines in our Book of Common Prayer's Rite II Holy Eucharist, and in several of the BCP prayers and collects, we affirm that God's kingdom is "now and forever." But the truth be known, I suspect we are usually thinking "forever" more than "now"--well, really, more like "Sometime later that I don't really understand, after I'm dead, and I'll think about that one later."
Most of us know that "living in the now" or "living in the moment" is a highly prized spiritual discipline. For folks in various twelve step programs, "Just for today" is a key facet of their recovery. Many of us have read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now" more than once. I imagine many of us with spiritual leanings like to claim at least novice, and maybe even intermediate, mastery of this discipline. The evidence in our minds is that it allows us some degree of spiritual peace, so it's our tendency to have, or at least fake, passable knowledge in the concept.
Yet the fact remains that it's way easier to think about the Realm of God as being a "later" rather than a "now" proposition. If anything, the world tends to scream its broken-ness at us on TV and in the news, as well as our own personal relationships. How can God's kingdom exist now, when the world is rife with violent crime, abject poverty, personal failure, natural disasters, and constant disappointment?
We find ourselves in a paradox--we can intellectually sign on to the concept of the "now" of holiness, but our heart tells us otherwise too many times It seems to be an acceptance of risk we dare not bear.
I only know one place in my experiential realm where I really, truly understand the "now" of "now and forever"--it is in the final half of the final inning of an important baseball game with two out, and the home team behind. Sporting events with clocks teach us there's a place where the outcome is academic, and our best efforts become for our own self-esteem rather than affect the outcome. The clock-less aspect of baseball, however, reminds us that we truly are building God's kingdom as we speak and it reminds us that it requires living in a tension we'd rather avoid.
I was reminded of this in an almost unfathomable place--the tail end of the sixth game of the 2011 World Series. As a loyal St. Louis Cardinals fan for all of the cognitive aspects of my 51 years, the product of my grandmother's loyalty prior to that, going back to 1926, I can no more fathom "not being a Cardinals fan" any more than I can fathom being any religion than Christian--because I was reared that way. It's who I am. So right from the get-go I have a barrier to the "now," because the past is a tap root to my groundedness. As I watched David Freese at the plate, wearing #23, I could not help but remember that was Ted Simmons' number in another era of my Cardinal-ness.
Additionally, baseball is filled with "tomorrows." Rain delay? We'll play tomorrow. Disappointing series against the Cubs? There will be another. Lousy year? Simply adopt the motto of the old Brooklyn Dodgers--"Wait till next year."
It's easier to live in the glories of the past, or fantasize about the projections of the future, than to simply breathe and be alive during that last out in the last inning. I thought about how stressful it was for me, a mere fan to watch David Freese stand in the batter's box with two down in the 9th and tie it up, and my palpable disappointment in stranding the go-ahead run in that inning. If that wasn't enough, I was not even given the mercy to live it once and be done with it--I had to repeat the same process with Lance Berkman in the 10th, but with a different outcome--Freese's walk-off home run that followed. Every pitch became excruciating. I wanted to turn off the TV and go to bed, to save myself the stress. I wanted to distract myself with junk mail or get a snack and have the possibility of loss not be in my direct vision. But I didn't, because I could not, and remain loyal to myself. Even then, in my faith, I wavered--more than once I thought, "Well, just don't strike out looking. Be swinging if you strike out."
That's also true with our spiritual lives in community. It's just way easier to think about how God interacted with people in Biblical times, or brush aside any of our pains, paradoxes, or puzzlements with a wave of the hand and a curt, "Well, it will be different in Heaven." We don't like to stay too long in the idea of what we are doing right at this moment in the here and now has the ability to help shape and form the Heaven that will be--even in the act of our failures and disappointments. We don't like to do mission and consider the possibility it will fall flat, while we are doing it. We don't like to come to church in difficult or uncomfortable parish times when there's the risk we could actually be snubbed at the Peace. We don't like to throw our heart into a new activity for the Glory of God and find that almost no one came. Those things hurt--brutally so, in fact, and there's just no good way of saying otherwise.
I think that's true from the clergy side, too. I can't imagine the priest or deacon of an angry or dysfunctional parish relishes stepping into the fray every Sunday. The pain of following a call, that ends with the curt vestry meeting and the call to the Bishop to ask to "dissolve the bonds of pastoral affection" can't possibly feel like God's plan is working at that moment.
But when I am sitting in a good place in my spirituality, and look back, I discover that the good parts of who I am at this moment and who our communities are at this moment would not have been the same, had these awful things not occurred. When we open ourselves up to the possibility that these times are merely lessons in formation, rather than things where our control yielded "right" and "wrong" choices, we discover that it wasn't about "us" at all. We just happened to be that batter in the lineup at that time, and what we did simultaneously mattered and didn't matter. It was not an "either/or" proposition, but instead, it was "now and forever" working simultaneously.
I believe we are probably most fully in the now of "now and forever," not when we feel secure and confident about seeing God in everything, but when seeing God in everything is the hardest. The faith to the notion that we are continually loved by God--that our striking out or getting on base does not affect this love, it only affects how we view each other in community--is a fearful proposition. But if we can merely stay in the batter's box, it is when we begin to see our own shape and form within the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Heaven of Forever gets a little closer to the Heaven of Now.