A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or, he may be in Church and be aware of God; but, if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, who is present in the same way in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere what is in Him. He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere. — Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1328)
When I was a child, before the age of 12, I had a profound sense that everything around me was alive with a surplus of meaning; that everything, no matter what it was, contained a vast territory to be explored. Every day would without fail yield for me a fresh set of surprises I had somehow missed the day before. Maybe it was simply the wonder every child is born with, and which every child seems to lose.
Over time the world of wonder I lived in, faded. What profound grief this brought me! I remember vividly one day, as I looked at the steam rising off the pond near our house, realizing that it was only water vapor escaping its liquid form. Nothing more. As the world, emptied of mythic depth, had grown flat. And I recall shedding tears.
I remember also how my schooling over time wore me down, evacuated from me my sense of surplus, shriveled the fruits of wonder in my soul. I experienced school learning as amassing new information useful to certain tasks; as memorizing cold data required for acceptable grades — which filled me with dread! Checking lifeless boxes needful for my future career. School required orderly and uniform learning and stringent assessments; it imposed strictly controlled behavior on restless children and straight-jacketed me in what I truly felt was artificially structured time (that damn clock) stuffed with forced activities devoid of play.
But reality was so otherwise for me outside! The cathedral of nature. I was blessed to live amid woods and fields and streams and ponds teeming with life. A world ordered by solar and lunar rhythms, by wind and clouds and rain and snow. By migrations and molting and blooming, birthing and dying. All of this world was filled with unplanned surprises and organic routines that seemed so in sync with my deepest self. No straight rows, clean desks and neat stacks, but only brambly patches and chaotic piles. Butterflies that silently flashed their rainbow brilliance in uneven beats and wasps without warning stung me fierce and deep. I loved it.
And the ocean! When we’d set out into Narragansett Bay for a day and a night, anchored in 300 feet of water, the sky would yawn its widest and the porous sea filled my lungs with thick salty air. Take that deep breath. Ah!
A teeming world, where even the lichen-covered rocks were alive, all far surpassing for me the droning sleep Mass-goers seemed to fall into as soon they settled into their straight, angular pews in church. “What’s wrong with these people?”, I’d think. They look so tired.
Once after Mass I saw a stag beetle on the sidewalk. After staring at their pictures forever in those books. Wow! THAT was a holy communion for me, as I came alive.
Though I did not have a rich vocabulary of faith then, I knew that what I found everywhere was speaking to me of their playful, wonderful, consistently unpredictable and wholly alive Origin. A sacramental universe is not interested in hiding its Architect. St. Augustine’s words seem perfect here:
And what is this God? I asked the earth, and it answered, “I am not he”; and everything in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they replied, “We are not your God; seek above us.” I asked the fleeting winds, and the whole air with its inhabitants answered, “I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars; and they answered, “Neither are we the God whom you seek.” And I replied to all these things which stand around the door of my flesh: “You have told me about my God, that you are not he. Tell me something about him.” And with a loud voice they all cried out, “He made us.”
I had inhabited for a time a sacramental universe. I knew its lexicon; its syntax and grammar; its meter and rhyme; its incense and icons. And after it was stolen from me, I’ve spent the rest of my life seeking it yet again.
And when I found Him again, he took me by the hand and led me back out into that world; and showed me that His liturgy sweeps into its tow the stars and sea and flowers and lichen. I beg Him every day to never allow me to grow dull to a world full of His glory.
O Lord, grant me wonder in every nook and cranny of my daily life. I beg you, Lord of the Monstrance, show me anew a universe saved in bread and wine — suffused, infested, indwelt, transubstantiated by a God who made, and became, earth.
Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there. — Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas, saying #77