Most of our awareness and thinking takes place within a framework determined by the immediate concerns of the present and is shaped by our ongoing reaction to these concerns. While this is in itself good and helps us to navigate our way through the day, and aids us in dealing with and resolving problems we encounter in our daily life, it also keeps us stuck in a mode of awareness that has little room for a wider perspective and broadened horizons.
Looking around us at the world now, with so much to discourage and challenge us, can very easily lead to despair or at least a deep concern over what the future holds. If we tend to overinterpret our present reality with reference solely to current points of reference, we all too easily become captive to a closed-loop mentality that prevents us from gazing hopefully into the future. This is what I mean by the now of today. On the other hand, the now of yesterday is a nostalgic and anti-realistic mindset that negatively interprets today’s realities through the lens of an over-idealised past. Here, the temptation is to revert to what was seen as good in the past as a solution to the problems of today. This is as much a denial of reality as the now of today mentality is a denial of the imaginative possibilities already at work in the present. Both of these mindsets arise from a fear-based need for control in a time of uncertainty and change. An openness to the myriad hopeful possibilities of the future reflects a willingness to allow reality to unfold according to the often indiscernible patterns and rhythms continuously at work in a world that is held in a loving embrace by its creator. In this view, the past, in all its rich depths is valued for how it roots us in a continually unfolding tradition; and the present is lived in courageously in all its reality. Just as the past opened into the present and enabled us through its wisdom to live fully in the present, so the present opens us to what lies ahead.
There is a dynamic tension within the present that commits us to the now but also strains towards the future. We recognise this in how our activities in the present are also commitments towards the future. When we live within this dynamic tension we take up the challenges of these future commitments, not delaying or procrastinating, or wishing things were otherwise, we begin to live in the now of tomorrow. When we allow the pull of the past to draw us into a fear of the future or a looking back to how perfect everything was in the past; or when we become paralysed by the challenges of the present and are unable to visualise future possibilities, we step out of the current of this dynamic tension and become locked into a static now that robs us of the imaginative capacity to envision a hopeful tomorrow. The now of tomorrow is a viewpoint from within the present moment that looks to the future and hopes in the future, and allows this perspective of the future to interrupt the present. When we engage this dynamic tension straining towards the future, we commit more fully to a now charged with all the open-ended possibilities of a hopeful future. By living faithfully the now of tomorrow, anchoring ourself in the present while simultaneously gazing with hope toward the unfolding of what is to come, we begin to see how the future is no longer viewed as our creation or the product of our plans, but rather, in this unified dynamism of past, present and future, the kingdom of God is seen to emerge as the gradual revealing of a progressively evolving reality.
Christ’s parables of the kingdom reflect this envisioning of a future viewed through the hope-filled lens of today. What is also clear in these parables, particularly those that employ the metaphors of trees and crops and seeds, is that what is envisioned is a future fruitfulness because of choices made and acted upon in the present. Future fruitfulness stands in contrast to an achieved productivity or an accomplished result. There is a difference when we plan and then perform towards achievement and productivity, because then it becomes our work, and not the Lord’s, and so it is we who are responsible for the outcome, and indeed for the success of the outcome. Not only does this approach exclude the Lord’s will and action, but it also limits the outcome to what is possible only by human endeavour. Furthermore, this induces a functional and instrumental mentality wherein control and domination of reality is the measure by which we determine the success of our work. Then it is simply our own kingdom towards which we work. This is the difference between two spiritual dispositions. The first generously, but mistakenly asks “what can I do for God?” Here, I am at the centre and it is I who wills, acts, and accomplishes. I act on behalf of and for God who becomes the ‘recipient’ of my good works. The second disposition humbly asks “how can I allow God to work through me?” Here, God and His will are at the centre, and I become both the open channel and grateful recipient of God’s loving action. This distinction between two spiritual dispositions, while subtle, is real, and reveals where the centre of spiritual gravity in my heart rests. It also determines whether my life is in service to my own spiritual vision and is primarily about producing successful results for God, or whether I am a humble servant of God who allows Him to generate a flourishing fruitfulness of His kingdom through me. When we allow the Lord to work through us for the growth of the Lord’s kingdom then the outcome is an abundant fruitfulness that emerges gradually and unobtrusively. And often, in spite of our best efforts this fruitfulness emerges in ways and in places that we have not envisaged or planned for. Fruitfulness emerges when we relinquish control and learn to trust in God’s wisdom, and to have faith in God’s promises to us.
How are we to live in anticipation of this future fruitfulness here and now in the present? By taking to heart the words of the Lord spoken to us through the prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11). By seeking signs of a hopeful future within the challenges of today, and nurturing and encouraging their growth. By living with a sensitivity and a gracious acceptance of the will of God given to us in the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Then to discern with trust and patience the Spirit’s urgings, and finally to respond generously and courageously. To live joyfully within the dynamic tension of the challenges of the hopeful present and the not-as-yet fruitfulness of the future (in other words, to live joyfully in the now of tomorrow) means that we trust that God knows what He is doing. That the future that He has planned for us begins to take shape within the mysterious and yet familiar unfolding of His kingdom, both within us and among us. That we live faithfully and with trust in the uncertainty and challenge of the present. That we look towards the unfolding of His kingdom by being actively sensitive, receptive, discerning and responsive to His loving will in the here and now that is generously open to the future.
Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future; faith is the courage to dance to it today
Fr. Terence Bateman OFM Conv