Wherever you are be all there
“We should do this more often.” A middle-aged man is pointing at the scenery, mouth agape, speaking to a woman standing at his side. (Okay, maybe north of middle-age.)
I am doing what I do best: Eavesdropping. (And it’s how I get my best homily material.)
The couple is leaning on the upper deck railing of a Washington State Ferry on a summer day (a few years ago). We are headed across the Puget Sound, from Seattle toward the Kitsap Peninsula. I can tell it’s their first ferry ride, first trip to the Pacific Northwest, and likely a very special occasion. The Olympic Mountains, still snow tipped, fill our panorama. I have lived in this neck-of-the-woods over thirty years, and this tranquil scene–a melding of pewter blue water with a hunter green tree line–has not yet failed to give me gooseflesh. Whenever I return from a trip, the mountains and water always re-orient me. Listening and watching this couple, it is apparent, that they too are plum tickled, finding enchantment and solace in nature’s pageant.
“We should do what?” she asks.
“Take these kinds of trips,” he tells her. And gestures, “The fresh air, the snow on the mountains, trees taller than buildings, the blue sky, no kids or grand-kids, and nowhere to be and no time to be there. We need to take the time to enjoy all of this. It’s our chance to slow down.”
There’s a pause, and the woman speaks, “But we’re doing it right now.”
“Yes,” the man persists, “but think of all the opportunities and years we’ve missed.” He begins the very long litany of all the trips that should have been. Each story is more disheartening.
I realize that I needed to intervene. “Dude,” I say, benevolently, “With all due respect, if you don’t shut up, you’ll miss this trip too.”
Here’s the deal: We all practice a finely honed proficiency at imagining our life residing in an event or experience or occasion other than the one we are in right now.
That proficiency is ratcheted up when our circumstances are, shall we say, less than ideal. And with irony, we also carry it into the moments where we do feel alive and grateful. Just like the couple; even there, still wondering what we’re missing.
There are those lucky moments, when we recognize and embrace the here and now. But I’ll be, if we don’t want to bottle it up and sell it on e-bay. (This makes me think of the Transfiguration story in Mark’s Gospel. Peter is so worked up he wants to build three condos and call it permanent). Or worse yet, we feel compelled to evaluate or measure each experience, as if a superlative is a requirement for its enjoyment. Somehow, ordinary is not enough.
Take a deep breath. And take to heart Jim Elliot’s reminder, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
This sounds great. It’s just not so easy to pull off. I was going to spend some time wrestling with the wisdom of Elliot’s statement, and distill it for the Sabbath Moment, but Brian called me this morning with “an exciting opportunity.” His name didn’t ring a bell, but Brian chatted like he knew me well. And, it’s not every day you get offered an exciting opportunity. Brian wanted me to have a Free satellite dish. All for me. This kind of generosity makes you all tingly inside, doesn’t it? I could get 500 channels, Brian told me. And all these options provide me “so much more to enjoy in life,” Brian chirped (literally, he chirped). And (Brian’s spiel had no pause button), I would never have to be “afraid of missing anything,” because I could record all the good stuff. I didn’t want to burden Brian with the fact that being faced with a lot of options–like standing in the grocery store trying to choose cereal or toothpaste–makes me want to beat my head against a metal pole, so 500 channels might send me straight to the floor in a fetal position. Instead, I told Brian that while I was “in awe” of his offer, I asked if I could make my decision after I spent some time potting a few deep lavender primrose, filling my hummer feeder and taking a brief nap in my patio chair. Brian was quiet. I’m not sure Brian understood.
Here’s what I do know.
While waiting for perfect, we pass on ordinary.
While waiting for better, we don’t give our best effort to good.
While waiting for new and improved, we leach the joy right out of this, or any, moment.
In a culture of lottery winners and bigger and louder and faster and newer and shinier, ordinary gets lost in the din. Ordinary, like watching dusk settle while reading on the patio, counting nuthatches when they return to the feeder, enjoying homemade jam on homemade bread (a sweetness that makes you believe in heaven) and finding delight in a book about Einstein and a Rabbi. Ordinary, yes. But a day without the heaviness of expectation, worry or fear.
And I do find the wisdom of May Sarton fitting (and her sentiment is mine), “There is a slight lifting of the air so I can smell the earth for the first time, and yesterday I again took possession of my life here.”
I like Richard Rohr’s take, “The world insists that we are what we do and achieve, but contemplation invites us to practice under-doing and under-achieving, reminding us of the simple grace and humility of being human.”
People ask me if I’m giving up anything for Lent.
Yes I am. I’m giving up…
…the vexation of not being enough.
…the hope that life is elsewhere and otherwise.
…the need to connect all the dots before I discover joy.
…the impulse to run from discomfort or disquiet, assuming they are an indictment.
…the pressure to be afraid of silence.
Speaking of ordinary, I’m enjoying my morning walks, and conversations with the geese. I think they’re getting used to me. They don’t scatter, and I keep my homilies brief. Today I was going to tell them about “living in the moment,” but that would be like preaching to the choir, so I tell them that my big smile is because of meeting this week’s new neighbors; two bald eagles, a family of deer and an apprehensive otter.
Quote for your week…
If green beans had been served at the Last Supper, Judas would never have gotten up to leave, I promise you that. Philip Gulley
Note: In conversation with Texas friends this week. Finding ways to connect and help. For those who wish to find a way, here’s a list of groups making a difference in the crisis.
I’ve told these stories in my book, This Is The Life. If you wish, the book is available, as is the no-fee ecourse.
JOIN US… Here’s an invitation to join the Soul Gardening eCourse. It’s available to all. No fee. You can order the book to go with it. It would be a good retreat journey for Lent (which begins on Wednesday, February 17).
The other great Lent option is my new book, The Gift of Enough–a journal for the present moment. My journal with invitations to embrace and savor the sacred present.
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Today’s Photo Credit: “This photo is from when my husband and I walked the last part of the Camino in Spain… Young green wheat fields, rolling hills, rock piles on the sides of the path, and then wild flowers growing in front of the rocks, flowers I do not know but one I do – bright red poppies. Yes, arresting! And, yes, there were arresting moments all along the Camino in Spain as well as in France,” Patty Smitherman… Thank you Patty… Keep sending your photos… send to email@example.com
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In the mailbag…
–Thank you, Terry. Your words are balm. And support. They make me think and feel. You also remind me of what I already know, what I value, what is true and real for me. You’ve made a real difference in my daily, isolated, pandemic-era life. I thank you. Mary
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it. David Orr
The most visible creators I know of are those artists
whose medium is life itself,
the ones who express the inexpressible
–without brush, hammer, clay, or guitar.
They neither paint nor sculpt–
their medium is being.
Whatever their presence touches, has increased life.
They see and don’t have to draw.
They are the artists of being alive.
May you be granted capable and amusing comrades, observant witnesses, and gentle homecomings.
May you be granted respite from what you must know of human evil, and refuge from what you must know of human pain.
May God defend the goodness in your hearts.
May God defend the sweetness in your souls.