“Dad,” the six-year old boy asks his Father, “How much money do you make an hour?”
“Son,” the father, short on patience from a long work week, answers, “that is an inappropriate question. You need to learn to be polite. There are certain questions you never ask people.”
“Okay,” the boy responds.
Seeing his son’s demeanor, the father softens, and says, “Okay, I’ll tell you. I make $50 an hour.”
The boy smiles. “Then, Dad, can I borrow $10?” The father bristles, his exasperation no longer restrained, “You’ve gone over the edge. First you ask an inappropriate question, and now you need money. Can you at least tell me what it’s for?”
“Oh yes,” answers the son, brightly, “With $10, I will have $50 in my piggy bank. And I was wondering if I could buy an hour of your time?”
When I first saw this story, I stopped reading. I needed to look away from the page, to absorb the brunt sense of conviction. I could hear Harry Chapin singing “The cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon… when you coming home Dad I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then…”
However, I am not telling you this story to trigger that same reaction. There is no doubt that this sense of missing (or missing out or being absent) affects us all, and in some form or another, it is a sentiment that will–some day–find its way into a eulogy.
But we are not there yet, are we?
And here’s the deal: we miss the complete story if we see this only as a cautionary tale, and as another reason to live blameworthy. We all carry with us the preciousness of time. But it’s not just about time, is it? There is something else involved here.
I was checking out new software, perusing reviews. Scoffed one reviewer, “Don’t bother!! I wasted toooo many minutes of my life on this!!! I will NEVER get them back!!!” (Apparently, there is something quite cathartic about exclamation points and invectives in ALL CAPS!!! And far be it from me to point out to this young man that this well-nursed seething may not qualify as an admirable way to “spend” his precious time.)
This much is true. Today, we do have a choice. One option is to nurse regret. Or at least some variety of self-consternation. You know, feeling all put out. (Don’t get me wrong. Of course there is a place for confession. However, confession is not just the recitation of sins or wrongdoings. Confession is about taking responsibility or ownership for our life. Every single bit of it.)
So. Here’s the other option: participation.
Participation in this life.
In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram points out that we are disconnected from the natural world, to our spiritual detriment. In other words, when we begin seeing the natural world as an “object,” it doesn’t take long before we see everything outside of our “self” as an object. And we are disconnected. We lose touch. This resonates with me.
I know this… I lose touch…
–when I walk “by” (any moment, or experience, or connection with another person) because I’m in a hurry to get where I “need” to be
–when I live only in my head (needing to explain an experience before I can embrace it or be embraced by it)
–when I dismiss or am embarrassed by discomfort (any form of sadness, grief, confusion, melancholy or disarray)
–when I assume that life is only about fixing, and answers, and tidiness
How, then, I wonder, do we ever regain this connection?
You see, again, we have a choice. We can see this paradox as an opportunity for discouragement. Or, we can see it as an invitation–to see each day as a permission to learn, to practice, to participate.
On the plane, a family of four sat nearby. The mother and father syncing their phones, calendars, to-do lists. She says to him, with urgency, “When we land, we need to hit the ground running!”
Yes. I do have days when I morph into some kind of manic mode, just to get stuff done. And it feels good. But this Sabbath Moment is not about “getting stuff done.” Even if that stuff is spending another hour with your son. It is more about our perception. What kind of time–or experience of life–is literally, “of value.”
I write this from Italy. I’m in the Piedmont region, tucked into the northwest corner, encircled on three sides by the alps. I am on my annual trip to Europe with my good friend Bill McNabb to taste wine. He’s a wine writer (and pastor) in the San Francisco area. But mostly, he’s a friend. I’m his aide-de-camp and connoisseur. This trip we’re joined by our friend Richard Wing, pastor and wine lover from Columbus, Ohio (First Community. Join me, I’ll be there April 8-10).
We travel to wine regions and are blessed to taste beverages that we cannot afford, but offer us a glimpse of heaven. Yes, I’m biased. But then wine is not a beverage here; it is an experience. Your choice is to savor and take delight. It is the home of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. It could be argued that Lent is an incongruous time for a wine trip. So instead of giving up wine during Lent, I have committed to renounce rushing about.
The vineyards scroll down through undulating slopes, a winter canvas, like a water color brushed with shades of russet and auburn.
This afternoon a tasting in Monforte d’Alba at Principiano Giuseppe. Francesco is the fourth generation wine maker. His father sits at the table, delighted and honored to have guests, his lifetime given to care for this piece of land. His hands are weathered and etched with soil. These are hands that care. Hands that touch. Hands that love.
But it is Valentine’s Day after all… a day to celebrate the gift of wellbeing, with gentleness and tenderness.
Growing up my preacher would tell me that God loves the whole world. I don’t disagree with the preacher–about the loving the whole world part. But today, I want to learn (and practice) loving just one particular part of the world. The world I occupy now. The world I see, taste, touch, smell and hear. Participation.
If you are reading this, now is a good time to pause. Look up from the screen (or page if you’ve printed it out). Give yourself the permission to pay attention to this moment. What do you notice? What do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch? What is it that makes you glad to be alive?
Remember the little boy? It’s not just about buying an hour. It’s more fundamental than that. It’s about touch. It’s about participation.
Tonight I am looking out onto the rolling Langhe hills. In the sky a half moon, and on the hills in the distance I see pre-medieval castle anchored villages. I am enjoying my friends and listening to Jackson Browne. I suppose there’s a dollar amount that can be attached to this, and if I had $50 in my piggy bank I would pay it. But I have a feeling that this… well, this is priceless.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The rain surrounded the cabin… with a whole world of meaning, of secrecy, or rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped the hillside… Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it. It will talk as long as it wants, the rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.
An Image That Makes Them Sad
How long will grown men and women in this world
keep drawing in their coloring books
an image of God that
The Sky Gave Me Its Heart
The sky gave me its heart
because it knew mine was not large enough to care
for the earth the way it did.
Why is it we think of God so much?
Why is there so much talk
When an animal is wounded
no one has to tell it, “You need to heal”; so naturally it will nurse itself the best it can.
My eye kept telling me, “something is missing from
all I see.” So it went in search of the cure.
The cure for me was His beauty; the remedy–
for me was to love.
(Perhaps the most influential of female Islamic saints and a central figure in the Sufi tradition. Was a great influence on Rumi. Was freed from slavery at age 50. When someone once left her a bag of gold at her doorstep, she said: “Dear, if you leave that, flies will gather as if a horse just relieved himself, and I might slip in it while dancing.”)