There’s a lot of goodness in learning how to be present, how to sink deeply into this moment, how to let go of the regrets of the past and the anxieties of the future and live for this day.
But I’m struck by the way a Judeo-Christian understanding of time differs from the injunction to live only in the present. There are Jesus’ words to let the future worry for itself in Matthew 6:28 (Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin). But there’s also the invitation to see all of time–past, present, and future–as a part of God’s good plan.
My favorite example of this is Psalm 63, where David comes to God in a state of desperation. He is longing for God, but his soul is dry. The present experience is terrible and even hopeless–”a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
But then the Psalm moves to the past, to the times when God has demonstrated faithfulness, goodness, love. He remembers not just who God is in an abstract way, but who God has been in his own life. He remembers encounters with God’s power, glory, and love.
The past of course stands in dramatic contrast to the present, but it also gets him out of that despair. This memory of the past gives him a vision of justice and fullness in the future.
David is using his “spiritual imagination” here, both to remember the past and to apply it to the future. And once he does that, he is able to move out of a place of despair and dryness. The spiritual imagination is the vehicle for hope.