I sit on my yoga mat in the dim studio. The morning sun sends shafts of light spilling across the hardwood floor, and one by one, people drift in and unroll their mats around me. Soft music plays in the otherwise quiet room.I turn my hands upward on my knees—a gesture of receptivity, the teacher explains—in response to her invitation to be present.
This year I have cultivated a regular yoga practice, and one of the ongoing struggles for me is to be present during my practice—not distracted by the past or worried about the future. Mindful breathing is supposed to anchor me in the moment, yet I often notice my breathing is shallow or irregular. Sometimes when the teacher prompts us to inhale, I realize I have been holding my breath…for how long?
How long have I been holding my breath?
Inhale…one-two-three. Exhale…one-two-three. Just in this simple act, I feel something release, and I, well, I feel. I feel this present moment. I feel my heart beating and my mind stirring. I feel emotions bubble to the surface, and I feel an ache rise within me.
I understand the ache of remembering the past. The shiny newlywed years are long gone, and sweet baby days behind us. Our boys are now teenagers on the brink of adulthood, and it is all-too-tempting to let memory pull me toward the past.
I also understand the complex feelings that rise when I think of days to come. These teenage sons will be leaving the nest sooner than I can bear to name, and my parents have aged into their eighties. The partings that I face threaten to paralyze me.
But what is this ache I experience in the present moment? When I recently stumbled on the following words of C.S. Lewis and Augustine of Hippo, they were bursts of revelatory light in this regard. In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis wrote, “For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.” Augustine explained it this way: “As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”
My heart aches for eternity. When I read stories like Lewis’ The Last Battle or Tolkien’s The Return of the King, I get a glimpse of the infinite joy it promises. Like the children in The Last Battle, I long to declare, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
Living in the present can touch this transcendence. Last night it was a chilly evening stroll through a garden strung with Christmas lights, walking hand-in-hand with my husband. A few nights before, it was a middle-of-the-night snuggle with my younger son as lightening split the sky and thunder shook the house during a storm. This morning it is an hour spent moving from posture to posture in a yoga class, feeling stiffness fall away from my body and grace return.
In these moments life seems to be made of love and tenderness, joy and connection, beauty and peace.
The present points to the abundance that eternity promises, and I ache with longing.
I know all too well that these moments, however sweet, are passing. Before I realize it, I am holding my breath, looking backward or forward, and losing consciousness of the present.
During this season of Advent, as I am ever mindful of the Christ Child, I think about his mother, Mary. Was she, like me, a mother who yearned for past tender years with the baby at her breast? Or did she look, with angst, to the day she knew he must leave her? Could Mary taste eternity in each moment she spent with Jesus? If so, how did she remember to breathe after he ascended into heaven? How did she live in the ache of the present?
I cannot imagine a time when eternity filled the present like the days when Jesus walked this earth. Yet, I feel the continued intersection of the present and eternity with each breath. I know it is the Holy Spirit infusing the air around me and stirring the heart within me.
As my morning yoga practice ends, I slowly inhale, and I embrace the present ache for the eternal promise of which it speaks. I flutter my eyes open and glimpse the sunlight stretching across the wooden floor of the studio. In the quiet I recall Lewis’s words—“The Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” I reach my hand toward the sunlight, smile, and I exhale.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.