Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
Happy New Year! This past week I have enjoyed a wonderful time of rest, relaxation, reading, and watching movies. I always like to look back at the past year and look forward to the year ahead. All of us have experienced so much change and so many challenges. We made it through one of the most trying years the world has seen in our lifetime. Congratulations! But there has been a lot of grief for the losses we have experienced and a lot of letting go of experiences we value so much.
However, now a new year has begun. We will see a new administration take office, a beloved long-time pastor will depart, a new pastor will be welcomed, and, prayerfully, new vaccines will enable us to resume some semblance of normalcy in the not-too-distant future. Though the calendar pages have turned, there is still a lot of uncertainty and change ahead.
When I am under stress or going through a challenging season, it’s easy for me to say, “When this season is finally over, things will be different. I’ll get back into my rhythm, back to ‘normal,’ whatever that is.”
I confess I have done this a lot in my life. Thankfully, I have a spiritual director who points out my tendency to do so. But the truth is, if we are always looking to the future and the life we want or think we should have, we miss the life we have right here, right now.
I have loved the season of Advent and Christmas, when we remember and celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, Emmanuel, the with-us God. His life and ministry challenges us to live incarnationally, to live with an ever deepening awareness of God’s presence with us whatever comes and to experience the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love that he gives. This is not meant only for Advent and Christmas. We are to live experience and live these fruits of the Spirit throughout the year. In the year ahead, we can live each day fully as a gift from God.
With this in mind, I was thinking about choosing practicing the presence as my discipline for 2021. “Practicing the presence is an invitation to see and experience every moment as a gift of God. It is to live alive to union with the Trinity. The Desire is to develop a continual openness and awareness of Christ’s presence living in me” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook).
As I was considering this over the past two weeks, this choice was confirmed in three different ways. As I spoke with my spiritual director about what was ahead for me in the coming year, she emphasized the need to stay present in each moment. I had not mentioned that I was considering practicing the presence as my discipline for the year, so this served as the first confirmation that this was the direction to go. She encouraged me with some ideas for how to do that.
Then, our family watched the new Pixar movie Soul on Disney+. I’m a fan of Pixar movies, but Soul is unique because it features its first black lead character, it’s filled with jazz improvisation played by Jon Batiste, and it focuses on what it means to live this life incarnationally. I won’t give away the plot, but it both challenged and encouraged me.
The main character, Joe Gardner, has lived his life obsessed with jazz music waiting for his big break. He finally gets his chance to play in a renowned jazz band—the Dorothea Williams Quartet. After the elation of his first show he asks her, “What’s next”
She says, “We come back tomorrow night and do it all over again.”
He says, “That’s it? I thought there would be more.”
Dorothea responds, “I heard this story about a fish. He swims up to this older fish and says, ‘I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’ ‘The ocean?’ says the older fish. ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’ ‘This,’ says the young fish, ‘this is water. What I want is the ocean.’”
It’s easy to get so fixated on our ideas about how things should be and even what we want that we miss seeing what is and the gifts we have to experience and enjoy right where we are in this present moment. That is one of the lessons that comes from Soul, and an encouragement to me regarding how I live the next year.
Finally, the third thing that happened was on New Year’s Day. We were listening to the countdown of the top 20 Christian songs when Jeremy Camp’s “Keep Me in the Moment” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb1bx3hYfzg came on. My heart leapt because I could hear how God was getting my attention once again. I urge you to listen to the song, but here are some of the lyrics:
“I’ve been thinking ’bout time and where does it go. How can I stop my life from passing me by, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking ’bout family and how it’s going so fast. Will I wake up one morning just wishing that I could go back. I’ve been thinking ’bout lately, maybe I can make a change and let you change me. So, with all of my heart this is my prayer.
“Singing, oh Lord, keep me in the moment. Help me live with my eyes wide open. ‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me. Singing oh Lord, show me what matters. Throw away what I’m chasing after. ‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me….
“When I wake up in the morning, Lord, search my heart. Don’t let me stray, I just wanna stay where you are. All I got is one shot, one try, one go around in this beautiful life. Nothing is wasted when everything’s placed in your hands.” (Refrain).
While we are in a new year, much is still the same. But we don’t have to wait for things in the future to happen. We can live fully who we are in Christ and the life he has given us right here, right now. How is God inviting you to “throw away what I’m chasing after”? How is God inviting you to believe that “Nothing is wasted when everything is placed in your hands”? Whatever comes in this new year, this is the life we have been given by God. Let us practice the presence of God and live life to the fullest!