Practicing the Present

practicing the presentI did something unusual this year. I found two of my top ten books for 2020 in December. (Expect to see my top ten list in a few days.) The first book was beautiful and buzz worthy The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. The second was a much less obvious and under-the-radar book.

So, here’s the setup for Practicing the Present.

We live in an age of hurry and distraction, both of which keep us focused on the future or the past. We may exist in the present, but anxieties are symptoms of our attempt to control the future. Our nostalgia is often an attempt to bring back the past.

God, however, does not deal with us in the future or the past. He deals with us in the present. The present is where we need to live. In Practicing the Present, John Koessler examines eight attempts we make fo live in places other than the present of our lives. He explains why these attempts are deficient ways to live and shares a few practices to help live more in the now.

I noticed . . .

I noticed that this book, though it says it no where on the cover was written primarily with pastors in mind. Most of the examples in the book pertain to the worries and frustrations that church leaders face in their ministry. For example, Koessler expresses concern towards the current church trend to spend so much time focused on mission statements because it breeds dissatisfaction with the present and truly centers our ministry in the future.

Despite this pastoral focus, I found this book to be incredibly helpful. I struggle with the symptoms of living on future worries and with past regrets. I took eight pages of notes into my reading journal from the book, so obviously, I did find it to be a really helpful work.

I wondered . . .

I wondered about a biblical theology of time. Koessler touches on ideas in the Bible about time as he makes his case, but he doesn’t appear to put forward a biblical theology as a whole. I can pick up pieces of it from his writing, but would like to see it a little more spelled out.

I also wondered how he squares the eschatological focus of the Bible with his focus on the present. He makes some statements about it in the book, but does not adequately deal with it.

It reminded me of . . .

This book reminded me of the movie Dead Poets Society for the emphasis on living for the present and focusing on living each day to its fullest.

I was also reminded of another old favorite of mine, Wherever you Go, There You Are. This is a Buddhist centered book that helps you develop mindfulness in everyday life. Kabat-Zinn theorizes that the present is the only reality and our personal happiness depends upon our ability to live in our present moments. While Koessler would contend that there is a future, eschatological reality for us ultimately, in our human lives, he would agree that the present is really our only reality and that we must enter ourselves in the present. Kabat-Zinn might help a reader to find some practical tips for attempting to live in the present.

One excellent quote . . .

Given the number of pages of notes that I took from this book, it probably would not surprise you know that I would like to spend more time working through the book, and maybe even thinking through it with a couple of blog entries. However, I couldn’t leave this review without  one quote I loved from the book. This is Koessler talking about the gift of time:

Time is a gift of creation. It is not an accident of our material existence but a creation of God. As such, time is sacred.

Remember that the now that you are in is sacred time and that you are ordained to exist within this time. Writing that reminds me of Frodo and Gandalf’s conversation in The Fellowship of the Ring where their conversation goes like this:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Give yourself the gift of living in the present if you are able. Do what you can with the time you have been given.


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