Ethical Reflections with Rev. Ian Markham: Learning to enjoy moments

Ethical Reflections with Rev. Ian Markham: Learning to enjoy moments
Rev. Ian Markham

By Rev. Ian Markham

It was Fred Bryan and Joseph Veroff in the book “Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience,” who reintroduced to the world a piece of ancient wisdom found in many religious traditions. The danger is that the moments that make life meaningful and significant are not “savored:” The result is that the moments are not appreciated. Instead, these moments recede rapidly into the past. It was just another evening out. It is rapidly forgotten. 

To counteract this danger, we need to learn the art of living in the moment and really appreciating the gift of the moment. At the heart of this disposition is the need to live life with a sense of gratitude. Life is precious; life is extraordinary. The combination of biological events necessary to breathe, think, read and absorb and reflect on this article, is vast. 

Instead of taking the miracle of life for granted and not thinking about it, one should pause and be grateful – which is easier for a person of faith because they believe in God to whom gratitude should be directed. But even the atheist should be grateful to the randomness of the universe that developed their consciousness. 

Building on this foundation of gratitude, the next stage is to savor experience. Take an “awe walk” and consciously marvel at the flower, the tree and the insects. Drink a glass of wine slowly, taking in the bouquet and lingering taste. Notice the sauce that the cook worked hard to create for your restaurant main course. Linger in a conversation and notice the wisdom and humor therein embedded. 

There is a well-known pattern when it comes to any vacation involving travel. We look forward to the vacation, we enjoy reflecting on the vacation; but the actual experience of the vacation is very uneven. Travel is always complicated. The accommodation is never quite right. Things are more expensive than you expected. And if you are coping with jet lag, then you will have at least one argument with your traveling companion. 

To counter these difficulties, it is important to build such challenges into your expectations and as you navigate the vacation to really pause, marvel and appreciate the extraordinary privilege of being in this different place. It is the act of savoring the moment that guarantees that the moment stays with us. In addition, the act ensures that, at least in that moment, the vacation is good. It is worth all the effort. 

Years pass quickly. We are already on the cusp of March 2024. Birthdays and Christmases come and go. The act of savoring slows down time. As friends and family visit, one takes a conscious moment during, say, the dinner to think this is amazing. I am enjoying their company: Everyone is well. This is a moment to savor. 

Every Sunday, my wife and I invite Kathleen, who is 92 and lives in Goodwin House in Alexandria, over to the Seminary for an English Roast. I look forward to these moments. Kathleen is amazing; she is blessed with mobility and an extraordinary capacity to do the Wordle and Connections games from the New York Times. Each evening is special. I know they won’t go on forever. But while they do, I will savor them. I will be grateful. 

The writer is dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary.