Someone I know recently told me something that Ram Das said: "If you ever begin to think you are enlightened, go and spend a week with your family."
This suggestion speaks to the dynamic within prayer and contemplation that is challenged by daily life….. the natural conflicts that occur, the intermittent chaos, sprinklings of upheaval, anxiety and fear about security in its many forms, illness, grief, loss and so, so many other accompaniments to the human existence. How then to pray, to meditate, to wrench ourselves from the grip of life’s urgencies and step wholly and earnestly into contemplation?
From a little book written in 1941, A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly, is a chapter entitled “The Eternal Now and Social Concern.”
In this chapter Kelly begins by saying: “There is an experience of the Eternal breaking into time, which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action…... This inward Life and the outward Concern are truly one whole, and, were it possible, ought to be described simultaneously. But linear sequence and succession of words is our inevitable lot and compels us to treat separately what is not separate: first, the Eternal Now and the Temporal now, and second, the Nature and Ground of Social Concern. “
“There is a tendency today……..to suppose that the religious life must prove its worth because it changes the social order. The test of the importance of any supposed dealing with Eternity is the benefits it may possibly bring to affairs in time. Time, and the enrichment of events in time, are supposed to pass a judgment upon the worth of fellowship with the Eternal. We breathe the air of a generation which, as the old phrase goes, ‘takes time seriously.’ Men (people) nowadays take time far more seriously than eternity.”
“……..The Church used to be chiefly concerned with Yonder and was little concerned with this world and its sorrow and hungers. …….the sincere workingman who suffered under economic privations, called out for bread….the Church of that day replied, “you’re worldly minded, …..you’re materialistic…..you ought to seek the heavenly……But the workingman wasn’t materialistic, he was hungry.”
“All this has now changed. We are in an era…..with a passionate anxiety about economicsand political organization.…….Time is no judge of Eternity. It is the Eternal who is the judge and tester of time. But in saying this I am not proposing that we leave the one-sidedness of the Here and of the time-preoccupation for the equal one-sidedness of the Yonder……I am persuaded that ………there is a serious retention of both time and the timeless, with the final value and the significance located in the Eternal…….”
“The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, …..and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life…this is the central message….this new dimension of life….we no longer live merely in time but we lie also in the Eternal. The world of time is no longer the sole reality of which we are aware. A second Reality hovers, quickens, quivers, stirs, energizes us, breaks in upon us and in love embraces us, together with all things, within (the Divine).”
“We live our lives at two levels simultaneously, the level of time and the level of Timeless. They form one sequence, with a fluctuating border between them. Sometimes the glorious Eternal is in the ascendancy, but still we are aware of our daily temporal routine. Sometimes the clouds settle low and we are chiefly in the world of time, yet we are haunted by a smaller sense of Presence, in the margin of consciousness.”
Kelly has so much more to say in this chapter that speaks so clearly to the Divine Presence as always there even when we are totally submerged and controlled by events. We are not necessarily remiss when we are not fully aware but we can rest in the knowing that the “Eternal,” as Kelly calls it, is the closest of all our experience if we but turn inward.