[I will not post until Sunday because I have another very hectic week. Hence, this post’s theme…]
Instead of wondering when our next vacation is we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from. — Seth Godin
My daughter shared this quote with me last weekend, and said: “Isn’t that great?” I said, “It is! And the busier your life gets, the harder it becomes!” After that exchange, later that night, I wrote out a few rambling thoughts in my journal…
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When beset by worries, anxieties and responsibilities, the temptation is immense to narrow the world around me and refuse to live fully in the present moment. It’s natural, in a certain sense, as I only have so much psychic energy to spend at any given time and stress naturally constricts my vision. But what I tend to miss out on when I get in that “survival mode” is the capacity to receive each arriving moment as a gift laden with rich possibilities for discovery and grace.
We call this attentiveness to the now by words like mindfulness, awareness or watchfulness. In the Catholic tradition we refer to the “sacrament of the present moment.” Regardless of the term used, for a Christian these all represent a disciplined attentiveness to the truth that each now is an opportunity for a singular and fresh encounter with the God who is at all times calling creation into existence.
In this sense, the primal event of the Big Bang has no advantage over us in its proximity to the shock-and-awe experience of God’s creating words: “Let there be…” When God spoke creation into being, He did not just create cosmic raw material and then saunter off to attend to other things. Rather, the God who is timeless called into existence, all-at-once, every single moment of cosmic time. From 13+ billion years ago to the end of time, all is wholly and immediately present to the freshness of God’s creative Word. I’ve always thought that the words to Eleanor Farjeon’s hymn, Morning Has Broken, capture elegantly this sense of “springing into being” so well.
We live mostly in ordinary time, in the daily routines and rhythms of school and work and family and trash day. Sometimes slow, sometimes harried. So how can we avoid ordinary time’s seemingly natural slouch into stale, dull time? How can we fend off the sense that ordinary time’s well-worn grooves or tight strictures are a rut or an imprisonment from which we require periodic vacating?
To see ordinary time not as a prison but as a Gate, I must be able to rediscover the Gift of Wonder again and again. Wonder, the capacity to be #surprised!, originates in God. Wonder abides deep within his eternally proceeding Fire, Fire once stolen from Heaven for us by Christ as he breathed his last on the cross.
I ponder of something great
My lungs will fill and then deflate
They fill with fire, exhale desire
I know it’s dire my time today
Wonder’s raging fire topples walls, plows ruts and expands horizons. Fire fills the Kingdom that Baptism first inaugurated within me. God’s is an ever-nearing Kingdom, cast by Christ into a world grown cold in sin. It is a Kingdom filled with song and praise, dancing and feasting, angels and rivers, seas and orchards; a realm without tears or pain or sorrow or loss.
In prayer I enter, and am entered by, this Kingdom. Intimately. In prayer, I allow God’s reign entry into the fissures and marrow and sinews and quarks of my being. In prayer I pass through the Wardrobe into Narnia, through the Sea into the spacious Promised Land. All of this transpires in the heart of the one who prays with the heart. It’s why Satan, lord of the icy prison, abhors prayer.
Only if we live in prayer will we come to see, taste, touch, smell and hear the coming of that Kingdom’s King, who comes softly as a zephyr (1 Kings 19:12), whose delight is to play among the children of men (Proverbs 8:31). The God of ever-present refreshment, celebration, newness and restorative rest is so near. Just listen now, in the silence. Do you sense him? The Wonder-Counselor is with us, working joyfully, eagerly awaiting our offerings, to render them translucent, transubstantiating them into sacraments of His Kingdom. Whatever it is we choose to offer Him– time, work, play, possessions, relationships, pain, boredom, dreams, regrets, love. Even a tiny puddle.
But do I have an offering to give? I can only offer what I am able to receive, and I cannot receive if I don’t first loosen my white-knuckled grip on everything. I can feel the tension right now! Here, let me release my possessing, controlling, consuming, using, abusing, squandering, self-centered and ungrateful grinding through the moments of each day; moments that so quickly bloom and fade away. I walk amid lush meadows of magnificent flowers, yet I thoughtlessly crush them underfoot because I live elsewhere than where I am. I long to pray with the immediacy of wonder:
Glory to Thee for the Feast Day of life
Glory to Thee for the perfume of lilies and roses
Glory to Thee for each different taste of berry and fruit
Glory to Thee for the sparkling silver of early morning dew
Glory to Thee for the joy of dawn’s awakening
Glory to Thee for the new life each day brings
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age
Annie Dillard said so well, “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Striving to “be there,” present in the moment. Present to the beauty of grace in life, in real-time. Allowing it to drench my soul and shape me. What a wonderful definition of contemplative prayer: Permitting the grace of the moment to shape me. St. Thomas Aquinas defines contemplation as a “simple gaze on truth.” A simple gaze is receptive, uncomplicated, not manipulative or exploitative, allowing reality to be what it is, the Real to be who he is.
Gazing simply, consistently, receptively on the God of Jesus. Crucified, dead, buried, risen. Letting this God be God, rather than me writ large. Doing within me all he wills.
This is the secret of liberating incarcerated grace. The Passover God is an emancipator. Let him enter, the King of glory. He will bend your prison bars into a Gate opened out into vast and fragrant meadows.
But if I persist in barring this Kingdom’s entry, failing to pray, I remain pressed, hemmed in, stifled in narrow places.
I love vacations. I find them so important for resetting my inner compass. But I don’t want to live my ordinary time bereft of wonder, depleted of joy, blind to beauty. I choose now to draw near to my recreating God. Come, Lord Jesus!