Are You Living in the Present?
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The anxiety of experiencing life
as a succession of problems - past, present, and future - can be overcome, a
Christian Science lecturer told an audience at The Mother Church, The First
Church of Christ, Scientist, in
Mrs. Josephine H. Carver, C.S.B.,
Mrs. Carver was introduced by William H. Waite, First Reader of The Mother Church. Her lecture was entitled "Are You Living in the Present?"
Divine Mind, or God, is "all-inclusive consciousness, completely outside of time," Mrs. Carver said. "Once accepted as valid, this concept of eternity changes our present experience."
Mrs. Carver illustrated her statements by telling of a friend who went to a practitioner to ask how a treatment is given through prayer. The practitioner had been a medical doctor before turning to Christian Science. She told the inquirer that as a medical doctor she would have treated disease or an abnormal growth according to her best understanding of medical practice, based on physical observations and humanly calculated predictions.
"Now I take a different view of man's essential nature," the practitioner said. "I know that the need is mental and primarily a spiritual want. I pray until an eternal fact that relates to the situation comes to me. Then I know with divine conviction that this eternal fact acts as law, and is the law of removal to what's supposed to be the trouble." The explanation of man's present perfection as the spiritual likeness of God, unchanged by the so-called passage of time and untouched by material events, convinced the inquirer of the logic of Christian Science. She did not turn to it as a religion at that point, but later, when faced with the prospect of an operation for removal of a growth, she recalled her conversation with the practitioner. She remembered she had been told that the law of divine Mind removes everything unlike eternal perfection. That glimpse of the unchanging law of God healed her without medical treatment.
"All that we can ever bring out in the human scene is what is already true, Mrs. Carver pointed out. The substance of her lecture is reprinted below.
When we speak of the present, past, or future, we're apt to think of time and the clocks and calendars we use to measure the passing of time. Of course these are a convenience, useful for order and courtesy. But is time really in a watch? Or in a calendar?
Have you ever been in an airport
where there is a row of clocks? Each clock shows the time for a different place
around the world. You see a clock that indicates
But there's a more important phase of the relative nature of time. It often seems that what we desire most is lost in the past or is waiting in the future. When this is the case we are not really living in the present.
Isn't the key to living in the present an understanding of what the present really is and what it includes?
There is an English play called
Suppose that instead of being in the canoe, you are up on the hilltop above the bend in the stream. From up there you can look down upon the entire scene, the grove of trees, the meadow, and what's beyond the bend in the stream. You can see it all at once. So what makes three experiences when you're there in the canoe is one single experience from the hilltop. What is present, past, and future to you there in the canoe is all a part of your present when you are on the hilltop.
May we not agree then that time is a feeling of one thing coming after another, never more than a certain measure of good all at once? If you view time from that hilltop you can break through some of time's barriers. You're not longing for something or someone you've left behind or anxious about what's around the bend in the river. You're seeing the whole view from the point of your elevation. You can begin to experience the good of the present, past, and future all at once. Then you have nothing to leave sorrowfully, nothing to face fearfully.
So let's consider a basis for experiencing more good; then we will go on to discover how, from this basis, we can live a more complete life in the present; next, determine what we can do about the past; and finally, what we can do about the future.
What could be the basis for experiencing more good? The basis is eternity and to find it we have to look into what eternity really is.
Does time without a beginning or ending add up to eternity? No. Eternity doesn't mean an extension of time, a vast amount of time; isn't eternity life without a sense of time? That is, life without the regrets that stem from the past or the uncertainties of the future. Minus these we learn to live in an enlarged present.
The ancient Hebrews had a different sense of time than ours. In her book, "Life and Language in the Old Testament," Mary Ellen Chase relates how these people saw past events as though these events were constantly with them. They even thought of persons who lived earlier in time as though they were with them in the present.
An instance of this is presented in the New Testament, the event called the transfiguration. Two of the figures who took part in that event, Moses and Elias, were men who belonged to much earlier periods than Jesus. Yet, the accounts describe how two of Jesus' disciples saw him talk with these men.
When we consider this ancient view of time, this mountain-top incident takes on a certain naturalness. It was not mysterious when we realize these people thought in terms of the eternal instant, everything now rather than a succession of events.
Eternity is what we experience when we look out, not from the canoe of time-conditioned thinking but from the hilltop of spiritual vision. From here, the view is not limited by a time-sense. Here beauty and goodness do not fade and decay. From this altitude of thought we're able to see that all real good is timeless.
How do we arrive at this altitude of thought? We have to keep thinking from the basis of eternity instead of from the fluctuations of time.
Christian Science explains eternity as already established by divine Mind, the permanent source commonly termed God. Consequently, to improve our lives and experience greater freedom from time limitations, we have to look into the nature of this source, or Mind.
This Mind is understood to be all-inclusive consciousness, completely outside of time. It knows enough to be unfailingly right and so we call it Principle. But Principle isn't static. Divine Principle is perpetual activity, the origin of all real existence; and this spiritual activity is what we speak of as Life. Because this divine Life is unlimited, indestructible Spirit, it's expressed in spiritual identity; it's not dependent upon matter.
If this is what the divine source is like, what is the demand on us? It's to accept the fact that, if the one source is eternal, it must be perfect and good. It follows then that the expression, that is, man as he really is, must be just as perfect, just as good. This understanding of the true nature of God and man makes us aware of the present in a new way.
Once accepted as valid, this concept of eternity changes our present experience. A friend of mine went to a Christian Science practitioner to inquire about Christian Science. She had many doubts about it, but she wanted to know what a Christian Science treatment is and what it could do for her.
This practitioner, for some years before she began to practice Christian Science, had been a highly respected medical doctor. She answered my friend something like this: "When I was practicing medicine, if there was an abnormal growth or action, I used a method of removal that was in line with a medically accepted law, but I was not satisfied with results. Now as a -Christian Science practitioner I also use a method of removal that's in line with law. Now I take a different view of man's essential nature, so I know that the need is mental and primarily a spiritual want. I pray until an eternal fact that relates to the situation comes to me. Then I know with divine conviction that this eternal fact acts as law, and is the law of removal to what's supposed to be the trouble. I begin the treatment and complete it by realizing the perfection of God and of man as he's known to God."
The emphasis in that kind of treatment is not on trying to get rid of something or change something; it's on what is eternal, on what is divinely true. The result of this discussion was a certain breakthrough in my friend's understanding of God.
She saw a new viewpoint that day though she did not then become a Christian Scientist. Some time later when she was about to have an operation she remembered this conversation with the practitioner. The operation was to remove a serious growth. It suddenly occurred to her that she didn't have to have that trouble. She saw that the realization of the eternal perfection of divine Principle and its creation was the law of removal to everything unlike eternal perfection. Actually this realization was a Christian Science treatment. When she thought of that trouble again, there was only normal appearance and feeling. This normality has remained.
She'd acquired some understanding of a new basis of thought - the fact of the eternal perfection of God and man as he is known to God. The trouble couldn't be found anymore.
This understanding is the basis, the hilltop. From it we can see, in the present, that life abundant that Christ Jesus speaks of. He is the great example. He wasn't limited by clock time or calendar time. So we're not considering a mere extension of time as desirable; we're concerned with living from an eternal basis, with having everything that is truly good now, including health. We have it by taking a better view of the present.
Briefly, this is the basis. So let's look to the present: To live in eternity, doesn't mean floating down that river in the canoe. It means that from the hilltop of spiritual vision, the eternal view we see is the wholeness of life that's free from a sense of time. From here we can catch the vision of present perfection.
Yes, perfection does seem far removed from human experience, but we can be thankful that perfection is divinely true now, not someday in the future. Admitting the perfection that is divinely true, is real prayer. Then we find divine power operating in the human situation. All that we can ever bring out in the human scene is what is already true, divinely true.
Have you ever noticed how we are apt to waste the present by doing a task mentally once or even several times before we actually do it? This isn't living in the present. If we want to make the most of the present we need to master our sense of time. A guideline to doing this is given in the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy. There she points out that time ceases as eternity is recognized. This guideline is so simple we're apt to pass it by. But the more we recognize eternity, the more freedom we have from the conventional sense of time and the more we'll be on time, and have time to take care of what is necessary.
The great fact of eternity is that creation is complete, ever appearing in newness and vitality. This fact admitted enables us to live more fully in the present. Here again Jesus is the example. He lived in the present.
In Jesus' life, there was immediate accomplishment without time pressures. Jesus began his career after he was 30 and lived out his whole ministry in three years. In this short period, he showed his dominion over time. What did he need with time? He had eternity. He didn't have any needs or wants, because he acted in the living present. He found everything at hand, at once - tax money, food, restored health for the sick, transportation, even the ability to be immediately at another place.
Jesus realized that man lives in eternity. He took just enough cognizance of the pretensions of sickness to remove them, to see that sickness is an imposition on man, unnecessary and no part of eternity. He didn't need time to heal. Although this is contrary to popular conception, healing is independent of time. We can take the hilltop view that health is possible for everyone now.
The hilltop view is the Christ view. Didn't Jesus heal by means of the Christ, that is, the Truth? This was his outlook. The Christ was his power and it's our power - always present, never just past, never involved with postponement, never a personal or private power.
Jesus knew he was demonstrating the Christ, his divine nature. He knew that the Christ-power can be found and demonstrated by everyone, that this Christ-power to restore health and harmony isn't limited to any one period of time.
Many people have wanted to know how Jesus healed. Mrs. Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, searched intently to understand how Jesus healed. This great discovery, when it came, wasn't a matter of time at all. It was simply the discovery of the way things are.
As Mrs. Eddy saw more of the spiritual meaning of the Bible, her understanding resulted in healings, remarkable healings that may be called a restoration of primitive Christianity. Through this healing work she founded a church.
Mrs. Eddy's understanding of
present divine perfection became so clear that she healed spontaneously. One
time she had invited some Christian Scientists to visit her. One who came
brought her two children along. They'd had a trying journey from their home to
"I wish I could make the world know what I saw when Mrs. Eddy looked at those children. It was a revelation to me. I saw for the first time the real Mother-Love. . . . It was not only everywhere present, like the light, but it was an intelligent presence. . . . When we got back to the hotel, there was no boil on my child's head."
This understanding of the eternal presence of divine Love is the outlook that is timeless and that healed the little girl.
Healings similar to this take
place today. They're made possible by understanding God, the eternally good
Principle of our existence. When Paul stood on Mars' Hill in
Paul says, "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Cor. 6:2). Mrs. Eddy writes of him: "'Now, cried the apostle, 'is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,' - meaning, not that now men must prepare for a future-world salvation, or safety, but that now is the time in which to experience that salvation in spirit and in life" (Science and Health, p. 39).
Thus far we've covered, briefly, the basis and some of the possibilities for living more fully right in our present experience. Now let's consider how to get the past into a better perspective.
Often we allow the past to cloud
our present views. Especially if something or someone dear is
beyond our sight.
"For all of good the past hath had
Remains to make our own time glad."
Now what could he have meant by the good that remains to make our own time glad? Could it be the essence of thought, consciousness, identities? These are not lost. Of course, they're things of thought, but there is nothing more real than thought. Honesty, for instance, isn't physically tangible, but it's a very substantial force all the same.
Take intelligence. Or that tenderness that is an evidence of divine Love. These qualities, these values are always in existence, always identifying man's real nature. You will always be able to see instances of intelligence and love if you watch for them. Just the way that mother did when she felt for the first time the divine Love that healed her little girl.
Isn't this the good that remains, that is not transitory or lost? It's not in physical forms or physical substance, and never was, because they are perishable. Permanent good must be by nature imperishable, unaffected by calendars.
No one has to suffer from grief. We can get to the place, to the altitude of thought, where we see identities as the effect of divine cause, as timeless and permanent. In reality we're all God's own essential expression and we can never be separated from each other any more than we can be separated from God. We're not separated from divine Love by death or divorce, not unless we take a mistaken view of the present. We are not separated from divine intelligence by either immaturity or age.
As we've seen, the realization of what is true now heals. Healing occurs when a trouble associated with the past is replaced with a present truth. A present truth is an eternal fact. The fact that your identity proceeds from eternal Mind is an eternal fact.
When Jesus healed the sick the
past didn't interfere. It didn't bother him that the man had been waiting for
healing nearly 40 years by the pool of
People sometimes think they're having trouble now because of some mistake or misfortune in the past. But any past trouble is really a present trouble disguised as a past trouble. The trouble is a wrong concept accepted in the present. What apparently causes the trouble isn't a past happening. It's what is believed now.
Then why does it seem that there was evil in the past? And suffering? Because we've learned to believe in evil, to believe that it is a power, to believe that it is necessary. But we don't have to have evil. The world in general thinks otherwise, but we can learn to unclasp our clutch on evil as inevitable. As we deepen our understanding of the divine Principle of all reality, our outlook changes. The Principle that is God is also divine Love, and being Love, it naturally provides only good.
When we look at the past as holding some evil, we may be tempted to regret or sorrow. How can we look at the past so that we don't feel any condemnation of ourselves or others? A good friend of mine who had reason to think he had made some mistakes once made a discerning and comforting remark that has helped a number of people. He said: We don't make mistakes, we just learn great lessons. This is a viewpoint that opens the way to true forgiveness of ourselves and anyone else. And how important it is for us to forgive ourselves!
This isn't difficult to do if we remember one thing - the perfect Principle could not create a man who makes mistakes. If we accept this concept of man instead of the concept of a physical self that makes mistakes and misses opportunities, we're less likely to take the wrong step. Not only that, but wrongs for which we feel responsible for ourselves will be corrected or adjusted. The right use of the present precludes dwelling on mistakes. It never means stagnation, it means continuous learning, fresh, vital thinking, newness of Life.
Mrs. Eddy writes: "We own no past, no future, we possess only now" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 12).
We've talked about how some of the problems people face in connection with the past can be solved by living in the present. Now what about problems of the future? What can we do about that feeling that none of us wants - anxiety?
Anxiety is always concern about the future even if that future is the very next moment. Nothing that relates to human existence is worth being anxious about if we see that existence isn't dependent on time.
For instance, do your future opportunities look meager for enough education, right companionship, income? There's nothing to the old saying that opportunity comes but once; it is actually continuous. That is, if you see what opportunity really is - to be yourself to the full extent of your unlimited divinely derived capacity. We make our opportunities by taking action in accord with this altitude of thought, from this hilltop. It's possible completely to let go of insecurity about future ill health or accident. A sense of insecurity suggests that such incidents have occurred and so may recur in the future. But the future is safe, if we thoroughly see that the feared incident hasn't occurred to the man God created, and so cannot recur. No occurrence; no recurrence. This viewpoint, of course, necessitates a willingness to identify oneself as the man God created. Everyone else also.
Principle is uninterrupted, continuous Love. Its outcome, the man it constitutes, is held forever intact within Principle. When this fact is sensibly felt, anxiety just doesn't plague us. There's a sentence in Science and Health that makes this clear: "Breaking away from the mutations of time and sense, you will neither lose the solid objects and ends of life nor your own identity" (P. 261).
You remember the place in the Old Testament where Elisha, with spiritual vision, warned the King of Israel to beware of a certain area? As a result the King saved himself from the Syrians. He was saved by spiritual insight. The prophets had this insight, because of their exalted view of the power of good or God to control present experience. We, too, can avoid dangers by coming to that mount of spiritual vision, the eternal view, outside of time.
A former Air Force crew chief, a Christian Scientist, has proved this to his own satisfaction. He has found that his sense of living outside of time has often changed the course of his life.
During a tour of duty when he was
in a dangerous situation he found the value of realizing spiritual facts. He
was on a plane flying from near
The pilot couldn't maintain an
altitude of more than 6,000 feet. Some of the peaks of the
The crew chief turned to that view of life as now and forever coming from the divine source. Uppermost in his thought was a conviction that he was always independent of time. He saw the present as all right because it is actually in the embrace of the Principle that is God. His thinking became focused exclusively on the now instead of on the threatening future. All fear left him, so much so that the confident look on his face startled the others near him.
As he put it, the plane plugged along for quite a while until it suddenly came out of the icy air into a small valley where there were people and houses and animals a few hundred feet below. Then he said, "We burst out into the Rhone Valley of France. The scene was unbelievably gorgeous."
They later found out that they had come out of the mountains through the only route they could have come without a crash, substantially off their intended course. When we remember that their visibility was zero and their navigational instruments useless, that verse from Isaiah truly describes what happened. In it God is described as saying: "And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: . . . These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them" (Isa. 42:16).
When this Air Force man told me about the incident, he quoted this sentence from Science and Health: "The great spiritual fact must be brought out that man is, not shall be, perfect and immortal" (p. 428). To him this was a denial of the time element as dominating man. Also a denial of physicality as the real being of man.
In spite of blind flying with no functioning navigational instruments, he acknowledged divine intelligence as guiding that plane correctly. He acknowledged it to be present even before there was any confirming evidence. What he saw of divine Life outside of time saved his human sense of life in time. This viewpoint is not a retreat from reality, it is an awakening to life as it really is, safe and harmonious.
If you find yourself living in the future, feeling that you can be happy only when you get to some other place or get something or someone, you can come up to the hilltop to a broader vision. You can stop trying to see farther down the river from the closed-in standpoint of the canoe. All that is eternal is here.
Sometimes our obligations in school or home or business loom large on the horizon. But we can meet the demand for intelligent handling of our affairs from the basis that the divine Principle of the universe is also Mind. Knowing infinite Mind's sufficiency, its ability to supply all [our needs, we can be] confident and active in the present. We take care of the future by making the most of the present. Problems are solved more readily as we see that divinely speaking, all real good is available in the present.
The work of divine Principle has already been done. It unfolds forever. It's all good. Knowing this we lift off the heaviness of anxiety or the dreariness of waiting for something to happen. The Discoverer of Christian Science writes: "Science reveals the possibility of achieving all good, and sets mortals at work to discover what God has already done; . . ." (Science and Health, p. 260).
Jesus prophesied: "Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things" (Matt. ). Elias, or the sense of prophecy, the spiritual, eternal sense, is restoring all things in their right perspective. This eternal sense releases us from the limitations and divisions of time.
Scientific Christianity takes the hilltop view that is independent of time. With this view we're able to wrest ourselves free from the restrictions of clocks and calendars to find a more satisfying life. Charles Barlow puts the situation this way in his well-known poem:
"Why search the future and the past?
Why do ye look with tearful eyes
And seek far off for paradise?
Before your feet Life's pearl is cast . . .
Of all that was and is to come
The present holds the Mind and Cause; . . ."
It is not time that's needed. What is needed is the altitude of thought that accepts the eternal now of divine perfection. Here is where you and I live - not partly in the past nor partly in the future, but in the presence of all that is permanently good, in the very presence of every right idea.
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[Published in The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 12, 1970, under the headline "Life shorn of time-sense reveals ever-present good". In the third paragraph under the heading "Divine intelligence expressed, " some words were left out of the transcription; in absence of the original Monitor page at this time, a few words have been suggested in brackets as a temporary remedy for this situation.]