Big Here, Long Now

The Big Here and The Long Now

March 15th, 2015

Rev. Fiona Heath


We recently renovated our kitchen. A couple of owners ago had moved most of the kitchen into an unheated back porch where you could open the oven door or do the dishes at the sink but never at the same time.

In the winter it got cold enough it didn’t matter if we forgot to put away the leftovers.  

We put the kitchen back into its original location in the house.

There are new cabinets, new appliances, a new sink and dishwasher.

They sit comfortably beside the painted wooden cupboard that was built in when the house was built in 1926.

In the new cabinets is my mother’s old china, a brown-beige pottery style that could only have been made in the early 1970s.

Making dinner in this kitchen is never just an act of the now.

It places me in a long history – the almost 90 years of the walls that hold me.

All the other families who lived and left their mark on this dwelling.

And the changes we made will impact the families that come after us.

The china places me in my own childhood when  my mum cooked her special lemon chicken in the casserole I now use for lentil curry.

We live now, but the now we live in is part of the continuum of time.

The reading Wendy shared is an excerpt from a longer essay by Brian Eno in which he contrasts the short now of immediacy with the long now.

“"Now" is never just a moment.

The Long Now is the recognition that the precise moment you're in grows out of the past and is a seed for the future. The longer your sense of Now, the more past and future it includes.”

Eno wrote his essay, which you can find in full on-line, for The Long Now Foundation.

This foundation is working to create a 10,000 year old clock.

It is intended as a symbol of long term thinking.

This clock is being built inside a mountain in the southwest US.

It will eventually be a place of pilgrimage, where people might come and gaze upon a gigantic slow moving clock and consider time.

It is designed to run on sunlight and hand cranking by visitors,

whether they stop by once a month or once a decade.

The designers see the element of trust as essential –

the clock’s fate will be left to the people who visit in the centuries to come.

Knowing that people are prone to steal and vandalize,

the designers say that its survival will depend on visitors asking themselves if they are being good ancestors.

Are they helping to preserve the clock for future generations?

Or are they breaking the mechanism for a moment of frivolity?

It’s a strange paradox that we live in a society that is future oriented,

and yet does so little to prepare for the future.

Everything new is good, everything old is dull. 

Anything that is good today will be replaced by something better next year.

A fact we live with anytime we buy a cell phone or a laptop.

And so we throw away everything without thinking where it is thrown.

We exploit people and destroy the ecological balance in the name of faster and better.

This is the nature of capitalism.

The need for endless growth, change, development means that the future is always more important than the now. 

The new is always better than the old.

But only in the short term, because profits are the most important.

Choices are based on what makes the most money.

Thinking long term means thinking often just means next year.

The damage to the climate, to other species, to people are just unfortunate side effects, seemingly beyond our control,

as we focus on our needs, right now.

Growth and change are important, vital to living well.

Society shifts, often for the better, requiring new technology.

But growth for it’s own sake is a cancer, spreading unchecked and out of control.

As Unitarian Univeralists we can do better.

We can learn how to live in the Long Now.

After all,

We aren’t anticipating the second coming of Christ.

We aren’t looking towards the next life for fulfillment.

We aren’t seeking the end times.

We are a living, evolving tradition, open to new perspectives that deepen our identity.

We also look to the past for wisdom in our six sources.

Our orientation is to the here and now, entangled in this time and this place.

To be aware, to be truly present in the moment, deepens when we expand our sense of time.

As people of the chalice, it is our work to develop our awareness of the Long Now.

To live into knowing we are part of a great string of moments on the ribbon of time.

To think carefully and plan thoughtfully for the generations to come.

To act with regard for – not just our grand-children – but their grand-children.

It’s a different way of being in the world, requiring more patience.

It will change the way we live, giving up short term gratification for long term health.

It will be difficult, challenging. It is counter-cultural.

But, it is absolutely necessary.

It is a way of being the planet needs, that we need.

I hope that we – together – can learn how to live in the Long Now, for the sake of the generations to come.


Along with the long now is the possibility of the big here.

Brian Eno noted how struck he was by the woman who paid no attention to life beyond the walls of her condo.  The small here.

He mentions that in Europe there is a sense of living in the Big Here,

part of neighbourhood, part of a particular place.

Strangely, for all the vastness of our geography,

North Americans are good at making every here small.

Big box stores, fast food restaurants, cineplexs are the same everywhere.

The designs rarely reflect a sense of place, of any particular place.

When it isn’t ugly, it is bright and shiny.

We drive everywhere in big hunks of steel, armoured against the outside.

We live in the interior of houses and malls, trying to ignore what is all around them.  Even the constant buzz of the QEW recedes, if you let it.

To live in the midst of nowhere is not easy for Unitarian Universalists.

While we are still learning how to live into the Long Now,

we already live in the Big Here.

Since the time of the Transcendentalists in the 1800s we have been evolving a theological orientation to place.

Transcendental Unitarians felt that it was nature that truly mirrored the Divine.  The world was not fallen and riddled with sin, but sublime and worthy of attention. 

The Divine was not separate from the world, but within the world.

Today that legacy lives on in our seventh principle – respect for the interdependent web, of which we are a part.

 “We are not outside the web of life, imposing our will upon it, but embedded within it…” (Rev. Peter Bolluta)   We see the mutual relatedness of all life.

Living out the knowledge of mutual relatedness is a radical act in a society that denies the value of place.

And we do live this value at UCM.

You can see it in the care taken with our property, with the planting of native species and encouraging the birds and bees to join us.

Our seventh principle reminds us that we are always part of a larger whole, that we do not stand alone, but are connected.

If we don’t belong to a particular place, we belong nowhere.

It is by choosing to belong to a place that we build the relationships that make all of us healthier and happier.

Nature writer Richard Nelson says “what makes a place special is the way it buries itself inside the heart, not whether it is flat or rugged, rich or austere, wet or arid, gentle or harsh, warm or cold, wild or tame. 

Every place, like every person,

is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it,

and by the way in which its bounty is received.”

Every place, every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it.

Living in the Big Here matters.

For many years I dreamed of being a homesteader who lived off the land, at one with nature. 

This dream did not go further as I realized I was too lazy to ever truly do the hard work needed to garden and farm.

I satisfied this desire for connection with the land by reading and re-reading memoirs of homesteaders instead.

Elizabeth West and her husband moved to a remote and ramshackle cottage in Wales. They were on the side of a high and steep hill where the wind stunted the trees.  The land was rocky and the growing season limited.

But Elizabeth paid attention and poured her love and compost into their acreage.  They planted trees and hedges as wind breaks.  They added more compost.  And more compost. 

The rocky soil increased in fertility and they could grow more warm weather crops.

The trees grew taller and stronger together.

And over the years, they saw more animals and birds and insects on their land.

By paying careful attention over years, by loving the land and caring for it, they brought vitality to their home.

Decisions were made carefully, not just for their benefit, but for their neighbours, and the wildlife that lived there too.

What was barren became a thriving eco-system filled with life.

Now the Wests lived a quiet slow paced life in the country that allowed for long term attentiveness to place. 

But we can learn from their example.

For places to thrive, they need love.

For places to be vital, they need respect.

Let us be the people who live in the Big Here,

extending ourselves to all that surrounds us.

The planet needs us.


Living in the Long Now – in the understanding that this moment is connected to the past and the future – helps us to be thoughtful and humble.

The Long Now reminds us that our lives are brief and time is long.

Others came before and others will com e after.

Our lives are not just ours, we are the products of the decisions our ancestors made.

And the choices we make will impact our descendants.

If we are mindful of this, if we take the time to consider the consequences to the extent that we can, we can choose to live in ways that help not hinder.

Living in the Big Here – in the understanding that we are connected to all beings that share the place we live – helps us to be compassionate.

The Big Here reminds us that we live, not just for ourselves, but for one another.

That caring for the earth includes caring for other people.

That we are all diminished by one person’s suffering.

All of us are grow stronger when offered love and respect.

Life thrives when attention is lavished upon it.

For Unitarian Universalists this points to attentiveness as a spiritual discipline.

To be attentive to the continuum of time.

To be attentive to the larger context.

To experience this understanding is a paradoxical way of being.

You must be able to be present to the moment,  observing the world around you.

You must also be able to step outside of it and see the greater pattern.

Learning to be pay attention is as simple as stopping and looking at what you usually ignore.

It is too easy to go for a walk and spend the entire time in your head.

I don’t feel well, I’m out of shape.  I’m so spiritual walking out in nature.

I still have to get to the bank and check my email and get the car fixed.

I’m so angry at her. Why would she be so mean?

To walk and see clearly takes practice.

Breathing and centering yourself so the mind quiets can help.

Describing what you see helps keep you focused.

And then having paid attention – to the grocery clerk – to the potholes – to the grey squirrel on the bird feeder – we must also practice contemplation.

To consider what we have noticed and fit it into the larger pattern.

Are there more or fewer potholes than previous years?

Is the squirrel healthy or ill? Are the more or fewer?

Reverential attention to the world around us.

Reverential contemplation of what we have seen.

Together these spiritual practices help us live in the long now and the big here.

I close with a poem by Gary Snyder:

For The Children  

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Let us learn how to live in the Big Here and the Long Now

And remember...

Stay together

Learn the flowers

Go light

So say we all…


iconfacebook icontwitter3 iconwordpress iconyoutube
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone Number for Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga mapicon


minister's blog Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga - Welcome page | We're on facebook