The “eternal now” refers to a state that is experienced in contemplative prayer. The experience is described as having a perception of being in touch with eternity while still aware of time and space. Or, put another way, the space the person is sitting in is altered and now feels connected with all other locations. Likewise, the person knows they are in time, but it seems connected to all other times. Even beyond this, the person feels as if they are beyond space and time. That is, they are in touch with eternity at that moment, while in that space.
This experience can be intense or subtle. It is, however, a recognizable “state”, and hence can be identified and named. The characteristics of the experience include beauty, awe, peace, rest and a sense of “communion”. This communion is on a continuum with “union”. Thus the person experiences a feeling of “being at one” with other people and times. Beyond this, the person has a sense of being at one with God, in eternity.
In addition to being restful, pleasant and restorative, the sense of the “eternal now” edifies the person experiencing it. It is in this sense that it becomes prayer. The person sitting before God in this state “sees” things in a new light. They may gain God’s perspective for example. In that case they will now increase in compassion, faith, or wisdom. Often, if graced with a connection to another person, the one praying will gain a new love for the person. This can translate into new energy to engage with the person, and a new understanding of how to help them. These experiences carry with them a purification of motive and cannot be used for evil.
Practiced contemplatives often speak of “union with God” as the goal of their prayer. The degree of purity, love, and wisdom are completed. There is almost a sense of not needing, or being able, to go further. This is often misunderstood in a variety of ways. For example, many people think that contemplatives are claiming that they are God. Far from it; the one who is in union with God clearly sees that they are separate from God as an individual. They do not claim to be divine. Likewise, when some claim they are in union with God they are not claiming to be no longer human. Christian perfection does not mean being without need for grace. To be in the eternal now, or in communion, or in union is still merely an experience of God and His perfection and eternal nature. It feels to the heart to be “one” but the mind is still aware of “two”.