Looking out my windshield at white puffy clouds, contrasted by a wide expansive blue sky as I made my way north on Highway 81 in Kansas yesterday, I considered something Alan Alda said in an iTunes “Meet the Author” podcast I was listening to.
He was talking about the power of now, in the context of his search for meaning. First he made reference to something Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: “All we have is the present moment.” He connected that with something a neuroscientist told him recently: “Our experience of now only last about five seconds. We’re in now for just that long. And everything before that is a memory.”
Alda’s goal is to keep up with the now because he sees colors and hears sounds he wouldn’t otherwise notice. He sees multiple colors in a person’s face when he’s in the now – hints of blues, greens and browns. Presumably, he doesn’t just hear a conversational buzz when he’s in the now, but instead he hears every word, every syllable, every tone inflection.
For him, being fully present is the closest he believes he can come to finding meaning. While I disagree with his conclusion – I draw meaning from living for God, glorifying Him and enjoying his presence – Alda is on to something, especially in our present age in which it is common to see friends gathered around a table at Applebee’s, all of whom have their heads down texting other friends.
I tend to live two hours from now, or one day from now, thinking about everything I need to do, and I miss the leaves swirling toward the ground in my front yard. I miss two squirrels chasing each other. I miss the brief look of loneliness on a friend’s face.
The fifth chapter of Ephesians has been on my mind a lot lately. I may write more about that later, but in part, the apostle Paul said: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV). Some translations say “redeeming the time” rather than “making the best use of the time.”
The overall consensus regarding the meaning of this passage is, we should be more diligent about works directly related to the kingdom. I see the truth in that. But Matthew Henry goes a little deeper in his comments about this passage:
“It is a great part of Christian wisdom to redeem the time. Good Christians must be good husbands of their time, and take care to improve it to the best of purposes, by watching against temptations, by doing good while it is in the power of their hands, and by filling it up with proper employment – one special preservative from sin. They should make the best use they can of the present seasons of grace. Our time is a talent given us by God for some good end, and it is misspent and lost when it is not employed according to his design.”
I love this notion of making the best use of our time because our time is a season of grace. The five minutes you took to read this post was a season of grace, or five mini-seasons of grace. Being present in the now is so much better than being lost in the cares and concerns of tomorrow.
Spoiler alert: I will be referring to the end of the movie in this post, so proceed at your own risk.
“Gravity” is billed as a movie that will leave you thinking about it long after the credits roll.
For me, that turned out to be true.
But initially I was disappointed in the ending.
“It felt incomplete,” I told a friend on the way out of the theater. “The movie ends with Ryan’s (portrayed by Sandra Bullock) safe return home and that was compelling, but it should have gone on to show us what she did with her second chance. It needed to be 30 minutes longer.”
I wanted to know if she found a way to honor fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski (portrayed by George Clooney) for giving up his life for her. I wanted to know if she found hope after the death of her four-year old child. I wanted to know if she learned to reconnect with people rather than pulling away from them. I wanted to see hope.
Jesus showed us what redemption looks like.
He told us to turn the other cheek, and then did so as he was nailed to a cross. He told us to love our enemies and then forgave his own enemies as he hung on the cross. He told us that possessing great love means a willingness to lay down one’s life for his friends, and then he gave up his life for us while we were still lost in our sin.
Twenty-four hours after seeing “Gravity,” my mind drifted back to the scene in which Matt let go of the tether line so Ryan could live. It seemed liked an easy decision for him.
That’s when it hit me, I’d been focusing on the wrong portion of the movie.
As Matt drifted away from Ryan toward death, he wasn’t frantic or fearful. Instead, he spoke in a loving, controlled tone, walking Ryan through the various steps she would need to take to find safety. Once she grasped that, he took in the beauty of his surroundings. “Oh, you should see this,” he said, looking down at the earth shortly before he presumably died.
We never learned a lot about Matt. We did learn he was on his last mission and he had hopes of setting a new spacewalking record of sorts. But we didn’t learn a lot about his background. Instead, he was more focused on learning Ryan’s background – even before the crisis occurred. He was the veteran, she was the rookie, and as such she needed his calming presence, so he found ways to get her to talk about herself, even though she clearly wasn’t comfortable doing so.
That leads me, and maybe you, to consider how he got to the place in his life in which he was able to make the ultimate sacrifice, without any reservation, when the situation warranted it. Prompting such contemplation is the real power of the movie, in my opinion.
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I glanced at my watch. I needed to leave in five minutes so Allen could go to work.
“I might go another six months without having a conversation like this,” he said.
That’s the kind of friendship we have. We live 350 miles away from each other, but we can go deep in a matter of minutes, even though I only see him once or twice a year. It didn’t hurt that we were on his enclosed front porch – in an environment that was created for conversation.
We sat facing each other in wicker chairs. His taped up Bible lie on the table next to him. He does his devotions out there each morning, which means it is his holy place – the place where he meets with God.
I felt grateful to be welcomed in.
His toy dachshund wasn’t so sure if he should welcome me or not, so he alternated between begging for my attention and barking at me. But ultimately, he seemed to decide that if I was good enough for Allen, then I was good enough for him.
As I glanced at my watch one last time, I was reminded of what John Sowers wrote recently about front porches in Portland being built outward-facing for relationship and communal living. Go check it out if you have a chance. It’s a good read.
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Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.