Last week my sermon was (amazingly) done by Thursday, the weather on Friday (my day off) looked promising, and I had no plans. So I called a friend and headed down to the Jersey shore to enjoy what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful day.
While I was there, I was struck by how totally and completely I was in the moment––any moment. Sitting there watching the waves ebb in and out with no smartphone or computer or even book to divert my attention, I was absolutely and completely present, focused only on the conversation I was having with my friend and the beauty of the day. It was such a novel feeling, this sense of being "peacefully present," that I commented on it to my friend.
I think I'm too distracted, I said, by multi-tasking. I might be eating lunch at my desk while reading a work-related magazine, for example, when I'll respond to the "ding" of my computer signifying that a new e-mail has come in, or I'll play my turn at Words With Friends (a Scrabble-like game you can play with others on smartphones to which I'm totally addicted), or I'll take a phone call. I'm constantly doing two, three, or even more things at once, and I'm convinced this is not a good thing. After all, how effective can I really be if I can't completely focus, even for a few minutes, on whatever task is before me?
Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr would agree. In fact, he wrote a book about this very thing called The Naked Now (New York: A Crossroad Book, 2009). Using the story of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42), for example, he pointed out how how Jesus compared and contrasted Martha, who was bustling around getting dinner ready for Jesus, with her sister, Mary, who simply sat there and was present with Jesus. "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; [but] there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part."
How many of us are more "Martha" than "Mary"? And how much more fulfilled could we be if we emulated Mary? As Richard Rohr points out, "Martha was everything good and right, but one thing she was not. She was not present––most likely, not present to herself, her own feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be needed. This is the kind of goodness that does no good! If she was not present to herself, she could not truly be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking she could not even be present to God. Presence is presence is presence."
It's hard to be truly present, especially in a culture like ours that reveres (and rewards) multitasking and hard work.
But Jesus calls us to be countercultural––radically countercultural––so I am willing to try. When I eat, for example, I will eat; when I'm working on a sermon, I will set aside my smartphone and computer; I will make an effort to be as fully and completely as I can be in whatever moment in which I happen to find myself.
I will, in other words, make myself available to the "naked now."
Will you join me?