Last week I was sitting in Taipei airport minding my own business, waiting for a flight. Then I looked up, seeing across from me a large box rooted to the floor. Half-dazed with a traveler’s zombie like stare, I focused on the words inscribed: Escape Chute. (There was also Chinese on it, which I couldn’t read. Any readers can help?) Part of me wanted to go over and try and open the box, and like Alice perhaps disappear into Wonderland. The other part of me thought: Escape Chute to where?
So many of us, including me, spend much of our lives trying to find escape chutes from our present circumstances. I love history, so have at times in my life found escape in the stories of the past, whether my own or others. I also love the future, so enjoy thinking how things could be better than they are now. Escaping into anywhere than the present moment.
In the 17th century there was a French Jesuit writer on the spiritual life named Jean-Pierre de Caussade. He was a spiritual counselor to monks and nuns, but with very few of his writings preserved. You can find The Sacrament of the Present Moment (with a foreword by Richard Foster, founder of Renovare), or Abandonment to Divine Providence, which is similar to the first but in some editions also includes many of the letters he wrote on spiritual direction.
I have come to treasure de Caussade, as I have deeply needed to learn how to escape into the present moment. This moment, these circumstances, carry within the seeds of authentic reality. That reality is often painful, often difficult to face. We want to take the escape chute anywhere but into that moment, that life that we are called to live presently. But it is in this moment, this life, that the grace and peace reside. I am learning to let go and abandon myself to the present moments, trusting that escaping into them will actually be the way to contentment and peace.
I can still remember when I was in my early school years, staring at the clock on the wall trying to will it to go faster. Wanting to do anything but be another minute in that class, with that teacher. Not all of my classes were like that, but many were. As adults we can still do that, whether it is watching an actual clock or involving ourselves in endless timepass activities that lead nowhere. (like constant checking of our phones.)
It is the present moment that carries life. The escape chute that leads to the “good ole days” of the past is fantasy. Escape that leads to the future is also fantasy. Fantasy never brings grace and peace, at least not beyond an initial thrill. It is facing reality, in all its terribly beautiful visage, that leads us to contentment and transformation.
Where do the escape chutes in your life lead? What are they? Are you living in the present moment, abandoned to the Divine Hand that holds you in infinite love?
By the way, I never did figure out where that Taipei escape chute led.