I sat by the lake the other day and pulled up a chair to watch the waves breach the rocky barrier and flood the upslope of the levee. There was a strong east-northeast wind throughout the night that had made the water pile up along the west and southwest sides of the lake.
There’s something about waves that mesmerize. The rhythm, the sounds, the spray that dampens you.
No one was out. No bikers, no walkers.
Someone, a lifelong resident, recently said to me that he wondered how I found beauty in this muddy lake. I wondered back how he could not.
I grew up in love with the shores and shoals of Rhode Island. Narragansett Bay, Galilee, Point Judith, Wickford, Block Island, the Harbor of Refuge. And as a child I was in love with a murky pond and narrow stream near my home. I learned to love bodies of water, no matter their size or color. To me, they teemed with mirco and macro mysteries.
I got to thinking as I sat and watched the waves and felt the wind, thinking about my personal quest to find beauty everywhere. My success ebbs and flows, but there is an insight I shared here in 2014 that I’d like to revisit again.
Years ago as I was writing my dissertation I came across a text from 14th century Dominican theologian Meister Eckhart. I wish I still had it. He spoke about beginning every act of thanksgiving to God not with this or that benefit or pleasing feature of nature and grace, but with the very act of existence itself. Be grateful first that anything is at all. Here is a reflection I wrote on his words, including at the end words I love from the preface to the Sanctus in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
Eckhart said if we could allow our minds
to encompass the magnitude
and sheer gratuity of being,
of our existence,
and wrap our hearts around
the fact that God,
unconstrained by necessity,
chose to spring creation
out of non-existence into being,
our thanksgiving would remain inexhaustible,
without further need or reason of justification.
And gratitude for this or that, for specificities,
would always be a surfeit, an overflow
from that primal act of eucharistic adoration:
“Something rather than nothing!”
But even beyond this all-sufficing beginning,
moving to “this or that,” toward “specificity” in my thanks,
of these there could be no end:
“Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand” (Ps 139:18).
And yet, catch my breath,
God has added to our existence infinitely “More” —
Beyond raising our world into being, with its excessive splendor,
He has raised up in Christ a new creation into well-being,
with a super-excessive, immortal splendor.
How can I keep from singing?
Should it not be, then, out of justice,
love and unfettered joy
that thanks should in each moment
threaten to overtake all our speech?
At the end of Mass, when told to Go
we say, Thanks be to God,
establishing a right-syntax for life
until we return again
to give thanks:
For Thou art God ineffable,
inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible,
ever-existing and eternally the same,
Thou and Thine only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit.
Thou it was who brought us from non-existence into being,
and when we had fallen away, didst raise us up again,
and didst not cease to do all things
until Thou hadst brought us up to heaven
and hadst endowed us with Thy Kingdom which is to come.
For all these things we give thanks to Thee,
and to Thine only-begotten Son and to Thy Holy Spirit;
for all things of which we know and of which we know not,
whether manifest or unseen…
I created a little prayer the day I read Eckhart’s text that borrowed its first words from the Jewish Passover litany, the Dayenu. “It would have been enough for us, O Lord, had you called us into being if only for but one day, one hour, one moment; to share in your I AM, to be for a time, born of your eternity; to receive along with all creation the gift of being-with-you, joining her hymn of ceaseless praise: Bless the Lord! By no claim of justice I am, so may I live in open handed thanksgiving from every moment henceforth I continue to be. Amen.”
Glory to Thee for calling me into being
Tout est grâce. Grace is everywhere. Look: