Today, in the Orthodox Church, is the beginning of Great Lent. Today is “clean Monday”. As we start our Lenten journey, I found this chapter extremely applicable…thought provoking. I think one of my Lenten endeavors will be to fight against “Escaping the Present”. To fight with all my might! Because despondency comes so easily to me, because it is a struggle, specifically in my prayer life, this will be a battle, to be sure.
“Whatever the present looks like at any given moment, there are only two possible ways of responding to it: to enter or exit it, to respond or despond. To enter the present is to surrender with thanksgiving to the time and circumstances God has placed before us, to abide in God’s presence in time and space. To exit, by contrast, is to reject this gift—really to reject reality.”
As I read this paragraph all I could think about was screens and what they are doing to our present moments. Screens do nothing but help us reject this gift of the present moment.
Nicole has given us three primary avenues of escaping the present moment: physical, mental and spiritual. I can see all three avenues used in my life.
The physical is “obvious and visible.” For the monk it was fleeing his cell, becoming a busy-body. For us…
“We may not be monks living in desert caves, but countless delights entice us form our proverbial cells, that is the places or tasks we are responsible for at any give moment. We call, we text, we busy ourselves with smartphones and email inboxes and mundane distractions.”
Mental avenue of escape: “We have many mental and emotional paths by which to slither out of the present moment: desire, regret, anxiety, and fear—ways of dwelling in our imaginations of past or future rather than the reality of the present.”
I see this in myself when I become discontented in job, my house, where I live. I dream of what it could be if I was somewhere else. A new job, a new house, a new state. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right?
But Nicole warns, “The more we build up our fantasies (even negative ones), the more intolerable the present becomes, because we cannot truly escape it—it devolves into a prison, locking us into a seeming lack of control or freedom.”
My fantasies run wild every time I “get bored” and look at houses on Zillow. All over the world!
The next avenue of escape is spiritually and this one is what I most can relate to.
“In particular, the demon of despondency creates listlessness when one rises for prayer. Then he bothers us again when we pray or psalmodize [sic], in that he urges us to hurry.” Evagrius.
Nicole says, “—despondency pulls us toward spiritual slackness, instilling within us a false but insistent sense of weariness.”
She says “As Evagrius describes, no sooner does a despondent monk embark upon the work of prayer than he feels mysteriously fatigued, although he scarcely knows why.”
When I read this, it was incredibly familiar. “Insistent sense of weariness.” That sentence is the perfect description of how I feel nearly every day as I rise to say my prayers. It makes me feel awful to say but it is true. And there is a name for, which is freeing to some degree.
It is comforting to put a name to it. Comforting to know I am not alone.
“The real enemy here is the impulsive, dissatisfied default of despondency—the desire to live anywhere but the present we are faced with.”
I cannot wait to dive into the next section of this book, “ Reclaiming the Present: Stepping Stones on the Path Out of Despondency.” (emphasis mine)
I pray for a fruitful Lenten journey of fighting the battle to “reclaim the present”. To rise for my morning prayers with an insistent sense of gratitude instead of weariness. To respond instead of despond. And to stay focused on each person I interact with.
What was the most striking part of this chapter for you? What will you take with you as you move from despond to respond?