Seizing the Day

Should there even be, properly called, an “everyday” spirituality as opposed to the “Sunday” or “holy day” variety? Isn’t “everyday spirituality” really the only kind? The present day is all God gives us. We must live in the moment every day of our lives, taking one day at a time and each moment as it comes.

Although the slogan, “seize the day,” is generally regarded as hedonistic (and therefore too decadent to be “morally Christian”), when it comes to our spiritual lives, it’s actually very sound advice. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan ahead for the future, but only that we can’t live in the future before it gets here. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t learn from the past, but that once the past is over, we can no longer do anything to change it. Truly, all we can be certain we have is this moment. Although a thousand years are as a day to God, we are so constructed, at least in this physical world, that we must always focus on the here-and-now.

In Eastern religious tradition, living each moment as it comes is a much more important concept. Faiths such as Buddhism, in which contemplation plays a more important role than it generally (and unfortunately) does in modern Christianity, have a keen understanding of this. The Buddhists call it “mindfulness,” and it is a key concept of their faith. It means being present to each moment and every day, and making the most of it by staying awake and alive to it as it happens, opening ourselves up to experiencing it fully.

Once we’ve begun to think of “everyday spirituality” as something mundane, as somehow less truly “spiritual” than the devotion we give special occasions like holidays or holy days, we begin to lose the sense of how meaningful each day is. Living each and every day as it comes is actually the only way we can really live meaningful lives at all. We must begin to invest each day with the sort of significance we now reserve for those specially marked out on our calendars.

As we have bought into ideas like “everyday spirituality,” our society has become increasingly worldly. We are more preoccupied with materials things, and less likely to recognize the sacred at all. “Spiritual” has become less fully real to us. Our fixation on the nuts-and-bolts of material life has blinded us to all that lies beyond.

This is not to say that it’s practical, or even responsible, to ignore the details that confront us from day to day. Most of us have obligations that tie us to seemingly-mundane concerns. Nor should we abandon all hope for a life of deeper meaning. What we have come to think of as “everyday spirituality” can yet provide us with a highly sensitive faith-life. Though at its best, it is based on the opposite premise of the one motivating monastic life: that instead of leaving the world to connect with God, we may do so right smack-dab in the middle of our busy, noisy grind.

As a matter of fact, perhaps we shouldn’t say that there is no such thing as “special” spirituality, as in that of Sundays or holidays. Sure, there probably should be days set aside for extra reflection and more intense connectedness with God. Advent and Lent have always meant much for me, and as a Catholic, I frequently find I experience “growth spurts” during these set-aside times for contemplation and worship. And God certainly commanded us to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy for good reason. But all too often, we are likely to regard “ordinary” days, and ordinary time on the church calendar, as throwaway time.

We don’t have to load every day with overtly “spiritual” exercises, such as mandatory hours of prayer, or to read ten chapters of Scripture before bed every night. If these things work for us, then fine, but for many people this only adds to the clutter. Jesus gave us a grand example of everyday prayer. He was known to retire to a quiet place each night for time alone with God. Though who’s to say exactly how He spent that time?

Did Jesus find it necessary to blab away at God, “blah-blah-blah,” filling the air (or even His mind) with sheer noise? I rather doubt it. There is a rich tradition of prayer that has evolved over the centuries of Christian history. Much of it has gone far deeper than mere “blah-blah,” involving reflective meditation too deep for words. And at least some of it probably originated with Christ and His disciples.

Simply contemplating the deeper things of life and being, keeping quiet and losing yourself in God’s awesome presence, is a powerful form of prayer. A glance at Jesus’ itinerary from day to day, as recorded in the Gospels, shows us that He was at least a busy as your average President of the United States — only without the regular vacations to the ranch in Texas. But He took care to refresh Himself each evening, drawing near to His Heavenly Father in devotion, and the results of these regular “battery rechargings” speak for themselves. No matter how much activity and human interaction filled His days, He was always able to find the energy to give attention to each and every person who came to Him. He had enough not only to keep Himself going strong, but to give to anyone else who needed it.

For more than seven years, I prayed the rosary every day. I have since fallen away from that, and I have suffered from the loss of it. The rosary is a prayer much misunderstood, and many who have never known it speak of its “mindless repetitions.” But the words of this prayer (all of which come from Scripture) are actually a sort of mantra, focusing our meditations on the life of Jesus from conception to beyond Resurrection. The scenes upon which we reflect, some of the most crucial of Christ’s life, have found a home in my heart much more from having prayed the rosary than from simply having read and re-read them in the Bible — and for having digested them daily for so many years, I have made them an enduring part of me.

For Christians in the GLBT community, keeping strongly in-touch with God, and making God-consciousness a part of us, is especially crucial. Many people in this world are unaware that gay and lesbian Christians even exist — and among those who are aware of us, we often meet an attitude suggesting that our faith is somehow “less real” than their own. Or that it is simply wishful thinking, and that when we pray, we talk into a black void as a scowling God turns “His” cold shoulder. It is easy for this attitude to infect us, floating as it does in the cultural atmosphere like an airborne contagion. Only by making regular time to connect with God, and by keeping consciously connected with “Him,” can we keep our faith vital enough to resist the infections that attack it.

Losing yourself in the moment can be finding yourself there, as well. You don’t even need the most obvious forms of prayer to do this. “Blah-blah” prayer — merely talking or thinking a blue streak at God — adds little to daily life. I went that route for a long time, too, and found it much less satisfying than simply telling the beads on my rosary. Even if you don’t wish to use the rosary format, simple meditation, alone in quiet with God, is a fine source of spiritual nourishment.

Those who dedicate themselves most intensely to the reflective life, such as those who take monastic or convent vows, speak of making every daily activity a prayer. When monks work in the vineyards or bake bread, they offer their labors up to God as prayer. When nuns scrub floors or work in the fields, they do the same. Surely it was prayer for Jesus when He healed a leper, or even when He made a table or chair in St. Joseph’s workshop. We moderns have lost the sense of offering our little daily toils to the God Who makes them all possible.

Many Buddhists say a silent prayer of thanks before they eat each morsel of food. In fact, as they savor each mouthful. They regard their very enjoyment of even the simplest meal as a way of giving thanks. Sometimes, when I’m very hungry, I plunge right into my lunch or dinner, forgetting even to say grace first. But instead of feeling guilty about this, I’ve begun to concentrate on my enjoyment of this chance to fill my belly, offering this enjoyment up to God as my thanksgiving. And when we “pig out” over the turkey at Thanksgiving, perhaps we might do this more consciously, instead of racing through it all just to get to the football on TV.

There should be no “flipping of the switch” from the worldly side to the spiritual, even in everyday spirituality. As a little girl, I often thought of my relationship to God as a sort of now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t game, the kind kids play when they shut their eyes and hope it makes them invisible. Even as adults we can get caught-up in unconsciously thinking that way, but this mentality causes us to see segments of our life — perhaps even most of it — as “set apart” for worldly and material pursuits, just as we reserve some “special” compartment for God. Indeed, worldliness is not so much a preoccupation with our daily affairs as it is a way of seeing them as more real than God. As if we need only live certain moments for God, but not any more than absolutely necessary.

Jesus seems to have lived every moment for God — even when He was just having fun and relaxing with His friends. There don’t seem to have been any “on/off switch” or “peek-a-boo games” for Him. Nor does He seem to have regarded daily apart-time with God as any chore or bore, either. It evidently provided genuine refreshment for Him, and He seems to have looked forward to it, treating it as the best part of His day. That, too, being what the monastic life strives for.

Some special, quality-time apart with God may certainly be necessary for us all. When we’re immersed in daily cares all day and every day, we may get to the point where — our best intentions notwithstanding — we “can’t see the forest for the trees.” But losing ourselves in the moment can also mean finding ourselves in that moment. Seizing each day, and every possible moment, for God can mean not only losing ourselves in the moment, but rediscovering both God and ourselves there as well.

We can seize each day and hold it dear. For just that day, just that moment, we can be mindfully present in love for, and gratitude to, the God from Whom all precious, fleeting time comes. Only by striving to live that way can we come to appreciate spending a timeless eternity with God. If we don’t, truly, grow to know “Him” in time, how will we ever recognize “Him” in eternity?

I think of it, rather, like the grate between the two chambers of the confessional at church. That grate opens on both sides. And over that grate, each side has a sliding shutter. But unlike the chamber occupied by the priest, God’s side of the grate is always open. Perhaps the best way to think of everyday spirituality is that we can always leave our side open, too.

It would certainly change the way we relate to God. It may even transform our entire lives into a wonderful adventure.