To eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience which [God] has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.
C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters
Despite the fact that we only live in the present, we find that moment to be the most difficult to hold in our awareness. We dwell in our distorted memories of the past or dash about a future whose existence is imaginary. In either case, we avoid the only point at which anything is real.
The fathers describe our awareness of the present as watchfulness (nepsis). We are repeatedly enjoined to be watchful, to be awake.
Arise, O Sleeper, and wake from the dead! And Christ shall give thee light!
The great struggles of our day are fought and won only in the battleground of the present moment. We cannot repent in either the past or the future.
In the desert fathers we are told: There is a voice which cries to a man until his last breath, and it says: “Be converted today.”
Fifteen years ago today, my family and I were received into the Holy Orthodox faith. My oldest child was 17, the youngest was 6. I had read and studied Orthodox writings for over two decades and gave willing, even eager consent to its teachings and claims. But the action of setting my hand to the plow and not looking behind had eluded me for those many years. I met the day of our reception with fear and trembling, more because of the naked prospect of encountering God than from any other existential angst.
I’ve learned since then that the inner life can be exceedingly creative in its efforts to avoid God. I placed myself in an Orthodox arena and found that there is still plenty of room there to play hide and seek. The cry to the heart today, as it was fifteen years ago, remains: “Be converted!”
…To a man’s dying breath.