Amy and I are toying with the idea camping next year in Yellowstone National Park. We have camped in Yellowstone one other time. We were newlyweds about to move from a garage apartment in Rome, GA to seminary housing in Louisville, KY. As we were boxing up our few belongings we determined we would have one great adventure before seminary, churches and children make the impracticality of such an adventure immutable. That was twenty-five years ago.
Here are a few things I remember: we drove for three days in a small car with nothing but a road atlas. Today that sounds simply foolish since we are pampered by GPS, smart phones and the internet guiding our every move. I remember that Yellowstone was cold; freezing actually. We prepared to camp as if we were setting up a tent in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina in June. June in Wyoming is something altogether different. Each morning we awoke with the inside of our pup-tent glazed in ice, formed from our breathing during the night. I remember that mountains were bigger than anything I had ever seen in my life, and yes, those mountains were covered in snow. I remember waiting a long, long time to watch Old Faithful erupt (note: Old Faithful is not as faithful as it used to be). I remember taking a short hike to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and was dumbfounded at its size. I also remember seeing the remains of the great wildfire from the previous year (that was in 1988) and felt strangely sad by this act of nature. I remember how giddy we both felt at having traveled so far and seeing so many things for the first time in our lives and sharing this together in our young marriage.
Like I said, that was all twenty-five years ago. We decided to help our fading memories by looking at our pictures from that trip. The trouble is they were faded too! First, there were not that many pictures. I have always been a stingy photographer, especially during the era of film. Film cost money and developing and processing film cost money. There are few things more discouraging than getting your pictures from the developer only to discover most of them are either blurry or have a thumb over the lens. But I digress…The pictures that we did have were scant, faded, and did not tell much of the story. As much as I journal I cannot believe the only thing I have from that trip are faded pictures and faded memories.
Yet we were there and what we remember is that it was a special place at a special time in our lives. I suppose that is all that matters. Do you have stories that hold power and sway over your memories? Some stories give us joy and hope. And of course some stories bring back pain and regret. With or without pictures we can never really go back and re-inhabit or relive the memory. It is in the past, yet it still has the power to shape and influence, whether our memories can be trusted or not.
The story that is most important is the one you are living today, right now. You have been shaped and are being shaped for this very moment to live, love, and be in community with others. There may be pictures, but most of the time there will be none. It is just now.
Practicing presence is not fretting over the failures or joys of the past and neither is it the anxious hoping for something better in the future. It is being present to others, particularly those whom you love. How many times have we looked back and remembered those who are now no longer in our lives and wished we had just one more memory, one more moment? The only moment is now.
Practicing presence is also a holy act of devotion. Too much of our religious vocabulary is paralyzed in a fixed dogma that imprisons our hopes for a better tomorrow while we anxiously try to figure it all out, reconstructing our past like a shattered piece of pottery. But God’s eternity is now. Richard Rohr writes: “At this point, God becomes more a verb than a noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. There is Someone dancing with you…”
The truth is – at times the disquieting truth – is that memories and pictures do fade, for time will have its way every time. You and I are here, now. It is grace enough to name someone that you love, now. And grace enough to know that God is eternally moving in all of our “nows.”
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this “emotion” is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder, or stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.
– Albert Einstein
Peace for now, which is God’s grace,