Jerry Earl Johnston: Living for now in 'the holy present'

Published: Saturday, June 9 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Sometimes spiritual insight comes from an unexpected place.

I was watching an interview with former President Bill Clinton the other night when he said his biggest concern with kids sending text messages to each other 80 times a day is they are not living in the present.

They are missing the joy of being awake to the moment.

Being awake to the "now" — to the present — has been a spiritual virtue for centuries.

It has been said that even paying complete attention is a form of prayer.

And yet, so few people are able to do it.

Being aware of life "now" was a key teaching of Jesus ("Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.")

Buddhists and other contemplatives have built their entire spiritual lives around the idea of being aware of living in the moment.

So why don't more of us do it?

It's not just texting teens who look for distractions, who try to "be somewhere else" instead of in the here and now.

Many of us create tasks to keep busy, to keep our minds occupied so we don't have to confront our lives. It's as if we fear if we allow ourselves to live in the moment we will somehow disappear, or perhaps we fear that despair will set in, that troubling memories and dark fantasies will flood in.

But those who take the risk, who actually learn to be awake and aware, often find that the void we fear is often filled — not with darkness and loneliness — but with sweetness and light.

They have learned — along with Michael McLean — that if they hold on, the light will come.

They often find the peace and serenity that was hidden by their helter-skelter lives.

I think that is what Clinton was getting at.

When we constantly live in the past, or in the future, or — as in texting — live somewhere else besides where we are — we miss the power and beauty of the present.

We miss being truly alive.

In religion we sometimes say a person is "active" or "inactive," as if religion consisted mainly of buzzing around, doing things.

But sometimes a light switch becomes "active" when it simply allows energy and power to flow through it.

"We need to concentrate on what has been called 'the holy present,' " wrote Elder Neal A. Maxwell for the LDS Church's Ensign magazine back in 1974, "for now is sacred … The holy gift of life always takes the form of now."

His thoughts chime in my mind with an old Zen proverb:

"No one can see their reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see."

I think even Clinton would give such thoughts a nod.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com