And what about “here and now”? It used to be one of my mother’s favorite instructions: “I want this done, here and now!” But thinking about it in terms of the way the book’s character is thinking about “now,” that request is impossible, because by the time it’s said, here and now has turned into there and then.
Time is slippery for us human beings. It’s slippery because every day we’re a little older, every day we lose a little innocence and gain a little wisdom, we hope. I remember Father Vincent at one of the high school baccalaureate services telling the young graduates: “Act your age.” Don’t try to grow older too fast. Enjoy this short time of your life to its fullest. It will be gone by too soon.
One of the catch phrases of the past few years has been to tell us that we should “live in the moment,” or “be present in the moment.” To live fully, we’ve been told, we need to be fully present. Now. Or, wait, maybe we should pay attention as “now” flies past.
Instead, we are apt to be remembering something from the past, or planning something for the future, thinking of when our grown children were toddlers, imagining what a child will be as an adult, remembering trolley cars and looking forward to personal airplanes, or maybe trips to the planets. So often we’re planning the day’s events that we miss the day. Or we’re remembering Christmas last year and we miss Easter this year.
In the Bible, in the book of Exodus, Moses meets God, and asks “What is your name? I have to tell people what your name is.” God responds, “Tell them I am. Tell them I am has sent you.” Our English translation of that phrase I am is missing its full meaning. In the original language it means: I am now, I have always been, I will always be. God is basically telling Moses: I am present to you in this very moment, and in the next, and in the next, and I have been in all the moments of your past; indeed in all the moments of earth’s past. It’s a wonderful concept; that God doesn’t have to worry about “now” slipping by, because God is now and was then and will be soon. Every now is God’s now.
In the Christian scriptures we read about Jesus’ words: I am the good shepherd, I am the door, I am the way. It’s the same word. And most astonishing to think of, when the Romans came to arrest him and they said: We’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, even though our translation says “I am he,” what the original words say is I am. Here I am right now, present; here I was a minute ago; here I will be always.
Somehow, it’s comforting to know that although our “nows” move past us so fast, and tomorrow’s “nows” will be gone again soon, that every “now” in every time and place is still existing. God is there, and if God is there, then there isn’t a “now” that disappears forever. Our favorite memories, our fondest hopes, our dearest feelings, all our dreams are held for us by the God who tells us “I am.” “I will never lose you” He says through his prophet Isaiah, “I have carved you on the palms of my hands.”
Our world often seems unsafe to us. Our days fly by too fast. Children grow older; how does it happen? In “The Fiddler on the Roof,” the song says: “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the years.” Everything is in movement, everything seems transitory. But then God says: “I have your back. I am.”
If you haven’t had the opportunity to hear the Bible read or interpreted through the human heart of your pastor, I invite you to attend a place of worship this week. Hear the words that have been spoken and remembered and repeated for centuries. “My words,” God tells us, “will not return to me empty.” Find the peace he offers, knowing that in all our “nows,” and “thens” and “tomorrows” God is. My prayer is that you will find a blessing in that word: I am.
Rev. Dr. Marcia Dorey is pastor of the Halifax Union Society.