There is an old Jewish prayer that comes from the Talmud that I have grown to love. It’s a prayer that is reserved for very special days, especially a day one has been looking forward to for a long time. It goes like this:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord,
King of the Universe,
Who has kept us in life
Preserved us from death,
And has allowed us to reach this moment.
What a beautiful thought, what a beautiful prayer. But I think it’s one that should be prayed much more frequently, even every day. For life is a gift, a wonderful gift, that should never be taken for granted. This moment, this very moment, will soon be past and will never return. What you do with this moment matters.
I love this prayer too, from the Amplified Bible: And this I pray: that your love may abound yet more and more and extend to its fullest development in knowledge and all keen insight, so that you may surely learn to sense what is vital, and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value, recognizing the highest and the best, and distinguishing the moral differences. Philippians 1:9-10
Being fully alive means living each moment to its fullest, valuing what has value, and ignoring what doesn’t. I’ve recently discovered a new author I love, Wendell Berry. I read this just tonight in Hannah Coulter. These words leapt from the page.
You think winter will never end, and then, when you don’t expect it, when you have almost forgotten it, warmth comes and a different light. Under the bare trees the wildflowers bloom so thick you can’t walk without stepping on them. The pastures turn green and the leaves come.
You look around presently, and it is summer. It has been dry for a while, maybe, and now it has rained. The world is so full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a child in one arm and leading another by the hand. Every puddle in the lane is ringed with sipping butterflies that fly up in a flutter when you walk past in the late morning on your way to get the mail.
And then it is fall and the cornfields are ripe and the calves are fat and shiny and the wooded valley sides are beautiful with color. The sun is bright, the air clear, and the shadows dark. There is the feeling of completion and storing up and getting ready.
You have consented to time and it is winter. The country seems bigger, for you can see through the bare trees. There are times when the woods is absolutely still and quiet. The house holds warmth. A wet snow comes in the night and covers the ground and clings to the trees, making the whole world white. For a while in the morning the world is perfect and beautiful. You think you will never forget.
You think you will never forget any of this, you will remember it always just the way it was. But you can’t remember it the way it was. To know it, you have to be living in the presence of it right as it is happening. It can return only by surprise. Speaking of these things tells you that there are no words for them that are equal to them or that can restore them to your mind.
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment, in this presence.