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Now Is All We Have

Even if you resist the idea that a moment sitting stuck in traffic or a half-hour walking in piercing wind in bleak midwinter is a sacred mystery, writes Kevin O'Kelly, you can’t ignore the fact that while it’s happening, it’s your life. (Petar Petkovski/Unsplash)
Even if you resist the idea that a moment sitting stuck in traffic or a half-hour walking in piercing wind in bleak midwinter is a sacred mystery, writes Kevin O'Kelly, you can’t ignore the fact that while it’s happening, it’s your life. (Petar Petkovski/Unsplash)
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COMMENTARY

The blog BoingBoing, a self-proclaimed "directory of mostly wonderful things," features a link to a company selling a box of 500 communion wafers and prefilled cups. The accompanying online catalog copy for this sacrament-in-a-box reads, "Prefilled Communion cups with wafers are the easiest, healthiest way to share the Lord's Supper with your church members. Easy open Communion cups virtually eliminate all the setup time… without the worry of germs." The tone makes me think simultaneously of ads for meal delivery services and for home sanitizing supplies.

Even though I’m no longer a believer, it saddens me that someone has seen a business opportunity in creating a time-saving kit for what should be a ritual moment of contemplation.

...whatever you are doing in the present, just do it, without thinking about what comes next, without trying to rush that which cannot be rushed.

The particular Protestant tradition in which I was raised was permeated with the sense that some things are worth taking the time. The bread served at communion had been baked by a member of the congregation. You knew that it had been prepared with care and attention. We each pulled a piece off that loaf and handed it to the next person. Likewise, we each took a little cup from one of the trays that were passed from hand to hand and drank the wine. I can still remember how good the bread was.

None of us gave any thought to the question of whether or not we were drinking Christ’s blood or eating his flesh. But the eating and drinking were done slowly and with reverence. It was a ritual reenactment of an act of sacrifice that we were taught had redeemed the world. No one worried about germs. And the service itself always consisted of a set number of hymns, a set number of Scripture readings, interspersed with the same number of prayers. There was never talk of how to save time. The service took as long as it took.

Kevin O'Kelly: "Winters here are difficult, brutal and grim. But although it’s winter, it’s our life. We’re wishing our lives away."(Alice Donovan Rouse/Unsplash)
Kevin O'Kelly: "Winters here are difficult, brutal and grim. But although it’s winter, it’s our life. We’re wishing our lives away."(Alice Donovan Rouse/Unsplash)

The contrast between the attitude represented by this “communion kit” and my remembered experience seems particularly relevant as we approach a time of year that many of us in New England wish would end as quickly as possible. That wish is understandable: Winters here are difficult, brutal and grim. But although it’s winter, it’s our life. We’re wishing our lives away.

Holy Communion is what Christians call a sacrament. The word is derived from the Latin word for sacred, and the New Testament Greek word for mystery. And whether we’re spending the present moment sitting in traffic on icy roads or waiting for a bus delayed by snow, that moment is a sacred mystery. It’s a staggering improbability that any of us exist to experience that moment; that the origins of the first vertebrates almost 400 million years ago could result in you or me, an intelligent being that cracks jokes and sings songs and yes, shivers at bus stops, is something to marvel at.

...whether we’re spending the present moment sitting in traffic on icy roads or waiting for a bus delayed by snow, that moment is a sacred mystery.

No one call tell you how to appreciate the present. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh would say try not to think, just breathe in and out. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would tell you to see and savor the quiddity of things: the sparkle of sunlight on ice, the swirling of flakes in the air. But whatever you are doing in the present, just do it, without thinking about what comes next, without trying to rush that which cannot be rushed.

And even if you resist the idea that a moment sitting stuck in traffic or a half-hour walking in piercing wind in bleak midwinter is a sacred mystery, you can’t ignore the fact that while it’s happening, it’s your life. The past is gone. The future is only a possibility. Now is all we have.

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Kevin O'Kelly Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Kevin O'Kelly is a librarian and writer who lives in Somerville, Mass. His work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor and The Rumpus.

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