Monday Matters (July 11, 2022)

Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation
-St. Paul, II Corinthians 6.2


In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.
-Henry David Thoreau


Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures. And we must mind today.
-Sophocles, Antigone


Every instant of our lives is essentially irreplaceable: you must know this in order to concentrate on life.
-Andre Gide


We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.


Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.
-Blaise Pascal, Pensees


How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
-Annie Dillard

On this day the Lord has acted. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
-Psalm 118:24


Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
-Matthew 6: 34

In a time in which change swirls around us, as institutions and norms we once thought immovable begin to shift, it’s comforting to know one thing that remains constant: 8am worship in Episcopal churches. From week to week, decade to decade, in some places generation to generation, same folks, same pews, same words.

I had my own taste of such immutability at my church in Chicago. An elderly parishioner attended our 8am service every week. Every week. If she wasn’t there, I knew she was ill and I would call her. Each and every Sunday, this 90 year old woman would greet me at the door after the service with these words: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” I think she wanted to make sure I got the message. While it may have the scent of Hallmark card, I took it to heart, as reflective of the wisdom in today’s verse from the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s the wisdom of the recovery movement that encourages people to live a day at a time. It’s the wisdom of the practice of yoga, in which one steps on a mat and suspends reflection on the past or plans for the future, an exercise in being present.

It is not easy to live each day at a time. We find ourselves caught between the what-ifs of our past, and the what-ifs of our future. It takes faith to focus on what is set before us in the present, to see the ways we can be faithful in each and every moment. My brain (a.k.a., my monkey mind) is often hijacked by regrets over the past or anxiety about the future. That keeps me from attending to what is right in front of me. It takes faith to give thanks for the gift of each day, to see each day, even stormy days, as loaded with possibility, as a stage set for God’s work in me and among us, as the very next immediate concrete way to follow Jesus.

When I find it challenging, I think back on an ecumenical service I would lead on a regular basis at a nursing home. Some people could make their way to the chapel without assistance. Others arrived in wheelchairs. A few reclined on gurneys, unable to move their bodies. Some were alert and attentive to my insightful homilies. Others snored. While the liturgy was sort of generically protestant to accommodate the crowd, we always ended with this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

If those folks could pray for the day, taking it as it comes, a day at a time, I was inspired to do the same. I’m especially taken by the phrase that calls us to face each day gallantly. Monday, July 11. You are given this day. How will you live into it most fully, most faithfully, most joyfully, most courageously? How will you do so gallantly?

I close with wisdom from Annie Dillard. She reflects on writing, but what she has to say applies to the daily writing of the story of our lives:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Have a blessed day.

-Jay Sidebotham

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