Meeting the Presence in the Present

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So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the Babylonian exile fourteen generations, and from the Babylonian exile to the Christ fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:17

Matthew begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. The genealogy is not designed so much to describe the past as to illuminate the meaning and significance of the present. In its scriptural sense, the present moment is not a chronological accident but rather the “acceptable time.” Matthew creates his genealogy so that Jesus is the culmination of three sets of fourteen generations. This was “the day” of salvation, the time long prepared by all that had gone on before for the Messiah to enter history, for humanity to recognize that God is with us.

The personages of the genealogy are a varied and strange lot. Although the lineage of Jesus, through Joseph, to David and ultimately to Abraham is made clear, it is hardly a straight line. There are models of fidelity and there are murderers, liars, and prostitutes (sometimes in the same person). The historical and cultural present moment for the nation is very much like the present moment for each of us personally. For each of us, the way to this present moment in our lives is always a tortuous one.

Christmas is for many a time for memories of times and persons past. It tends to evoke strong feelings of sentimentality, nostalgia, and, frequently enough, the sense of loss and sadness and even regret that such memories carry. This much anticipated feast often disappoints us at times because instead of being in the present we tend to judge the present based on our ideals and hopes of the past. It is difficult for us to remember that, as the gospel genealogist, we are to receive the present as the fulfillment and possibility of all the elements of our past. Instead of judging, and at times depreciating and resenting, the past out of the idealized present, we are called to receive, accept, and respond to the present as the moment to which each preceding moment of our lives has led us. In all likelihood we have not come to the present moment by “the way” that we thought and hoped it would come about. But it is the time and the place for Christ to be born in us. In all likelihood this moment will not be the place or the time or maybe even the circumstances we would have hoped for and thought should be. We may find ourselves in a different place, among different people, and in different circumstances than we ever would have hoped or expected. We may not be the person we expected to be by this time of our lives, but faith tells us that this moment, as it is, is the place and the time to recognize the Lord’s presence, love, and call and to give ourselves as fully in response as we are able.

In the following passage, the Zen master Dainin Katagiri speaks of our spiritual potency to be fully in the present by “touching” the reality of the moment before our ideas about it distance us from its call and possibility.

So, what is the best time to read a book, what is the best time to do zazen? This question is important for us. The moment that something happens is very important. For example, if you leave the city and go to the country, sometimes you see a deer, right in front of you. You are very surprised! You can get a big shock. The moment when the deer appears, you immediately forget who you are. You jump into that time and are completely absorbed into that moment. That time is very clear. The deer occupies the whole world, and you understand the real existence of the deer because you touch the deer’s life. You are one with the deer, so you are silent. Then your consciousness starts to work. The deer becomes something you understand as a concept, so you say, “Wow, a deer!” But the real deer was understood at the exact moment when you met it and the deer appeared very clearly, like a moon.

Dainin Katagiri, Each Moment is the Universe

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