“I need your help,” I say to my congregation, the sheep, this morning. “Why does it look so easy for you to live so fully in the present moment?”
My question is met with blank stares and chewing.
Finally, a little one speaks, “We didn’t know there was any other option.”
That made me smile big. I didn’t want to tell him that we humans go out of our way to manufacture all kinds of options, to make life more complicated. The result? A Hopi (Native American) word “koyaanisqatsi”. It translates, “life out of balance”. Of course it doesn’t take a long, unpronounceable word to know the problem. But it helps to know that it’s been around awhile. Life’s difficulties and obligations impact us all. They pinch, constrain and put blinders on us. So, it’s not that we don’t pay attention, it’s just that with our blinders, we may not even notice.
And let’s be honest, the present moment may not always be to our liking. It’s no wonder we want to rearrange or tidy up. So, we make living in the present a skill set to acquire, and an item for our to-do list. In other words, we’ll figure it out one of these days. But here’s the deal: we miss the invitation of intimacy with the present; the invitation of our tender and humble and whole self, with our capacity to find grace and to savor and to embrace and to care and to invest. To make a difference. To be here now.
I remember a haunting little memoir entitled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of the French fashion magazine, Elle. At the age of 43, Jean-Dominique suffered a rare kind of stroke to the brain stem. He woke after twenty days in a coma. Only his left eye functioned. But his mind was unimpaired, frozen in a body, which had, but one meager way to communicate. It’s the story about what it is like to be locked up, a prisoner in your own skin. I cannot imagine the terror, the claustrophobia. It is one thing to feel misunderstood. It is quite another to have utterly no recourse. To feel completely at the mercy of your body, medical and personal opinion, the good will of friends and acquaintances, and above all else, silence. In this case, the indictment of silence.
It was in that world that Bauby learned to probe inlets of sanity, or as he called them, the “only windows to my cell.” To fall prey to daydreams of walking and talking. To find the “hours drag on but the months flash by.” And then this: “Far from such din, when blessed silence returns, I can listen to the butterflies that flitter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for their wingbeats are barely audible. Loud breathing is enough to drown them out. This is astonishing: my hearing does not improve, yet I hear them better and better. I must have butterfly hearing.”
This story does my heart good. It is a story about finding and embracing the sacrament of the present. A story about resiliency. And ultimately, about love. Love of life, and love of the self I bring to this life.
This all sounds good on paper, but it is not an easy sell, especially when we live in a world where we are fueled by the promise of that imaginary day when all will be easier, or at least back to “normal”.
Are we there yet? Are we done now?
Resilience is what happens when we give up control and are willing to embrace the ambiguity. And in that ambiguity, to hear—and to take delight in—the wingbeats of butterflies. To be here now.
Let us remember that regardless of our circumstances, life pulls us inexorably toward love and beauty, even though it may be wrapped in aching pain and or delicious hope. To engage this pull, this fuel that feeds life, is the sacred necessity of resilience. Which means that resilience allows us to live with intention. Now. We do not put off until tomorrow what can be embraced, enjoyed, felt, or experienced today. This includes our sadness, our disappointment and our grief.
Where does one get resilience?
Or butterfly hearing?
Is this a gene only given to the lucky?
Here’s the deal: We are not outrunning life. Or outrunning the bad parts of life. Resilience involves inviting all of life in… the longing, hunger, vulnerability, wildness, energy, uncertainty, appetite, hope, humor, beauty, and irony.
Only when we embrace do we see.
Only when embrace do we hear… with butterfly hearing.
I’m reminded of an article I clipped with a photo of the man giving a testimonial: “It made me feel like a human being again.” Is he referring to a church? To a mandatory therapy group? To a motivational seminar? To a New York Times bestselling book? No.
He is a former inmate in San Francisco Prison. Now he is working with the San Francisco Garden Project. He is talking about feeling human again because of his work in a garden.
The Garden Project is a program started for the San Francisco County Jail by Catherine Sneed. In an eight-acre garden, prisoners grow vegetables, and the organic produce is delivered to the project that supplies food to seniors, homeless people, and AIDS victims. Above all, the organic, chemical-free garden is a living metaphor for the healthy lives the jail-gardeners are trying to create.
Go figure. We go to great lengths (not to mention pay good money) to find balance; to name solutions for our emotional conundrums. All this man did was put his hands in the soil, plant a seed, and watch it grow.
That’s just it; life pulls us inexorably toward love and beauty. And we find replenishment and balance in places of sanctuary. In sanctuary we do not close life off, we let life in… every bit of life, wholeheartedly, whether that is grief or sadness or bewilderment or gladness or joy. Yes, we can be here now.
Outside of Tucson, Jim Harrison writes, “…there is the grace note of a new landscape to draw off your accumulated poisons, a world so strange and wonderful that the poultice effect is instant.” Poultice. That is the precise word. Because there is something healing by virtue of what a sanctuary space is. And, here’s the good news, it’s not healing by virtue of the way we control or manage it.
Today, I thank God for butterfly hearing, and for the grace that allows me to risk loving this day.
To be unafraid of a life that can be messy.
To make a space for something less than perfect in myself and in those around me.
To offer kindness or compassion in a glance. In a word. In a touch. In a gesture.
To create sanctuary spaces where healing and hope are offered; where hatred is turned away.
To believe in goodness after harm.
And to know that this love will always spill to the world around me.
Speaking of living in the present. Pain makes us pay attention. To be more specific, pain gets our attention and motivates us to seek relief. I spent Friday in an emergency room at a Tacoma hospital. All is well, so no worries there, thankfully. But a good reminder to reshuffle what matters.
Hammered by heavy rain, the garden still exquisite; although flowers bowed, prone and many, snapped. A reminder that we have only today to savor.
Quote for your week…
It seems to me that I have a greater peace and am closer to God when I am not ‘trying to be a contemplative,’ or trying to be anything special, but simply orienting my life fully and completely towards what seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this. Thomas Merton
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Terry……Loved Tagore’s quote. When our son died, I asked for the following to be put on the bulletin at the church service: “Faith is the bird who feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.” Tagore, Pat
–Thank you for the picture of the sheep. Love your conversations with them. Blessings, Joan
–Terry, I have been blessed to have been introduced to your SM writings a few years ago by a special friend. Through the pandemic I have joined in on some of the eCourses and have been so glad to have it available during this time. Also, I love the sheep! God bless and thank you. Carolyn
–Terry, We want you to know that we read SM for all the reason you write it. We are a couple of fortunate recipients. Thank you for inviting us every Monday morning to your place of love, encouragement and kindness. Debbie and Chris
–Terry, thank you once again for restoring my faith. Each week after seeing the news I feel discouraged and beat down, then your Sabbath Moment appears and my heart is full again. Thank you for all you do, you are a blessing to so many. Also thank you for sharing the pictures of your beautiful garden. Take care, be safe. Carol
–Hi, Terry, Thank you for the photos of your garden. All your flowers are so beautiful. Thank you most especially for your words and thoughts that you share on Mondays and Daily dose during the week. They touch my heart. Many of your quotes of authors and poets that you share are friends of mine, too. Nm. 6:24-26, Gloria
–Thanks Terry. What a beautiful message. Your father-son memory touched my heart. Thanks for the picture of tour “congregation” keeping safe distance. You have become such a bright part of my day! God Bless you and always keep you in the palm of His hand. María
–Hi Terry, thank you so much for sharing the picture of the sheep, it makes the conversations you have with them so much more real, I love it! Thanks also for explaining more clearly the history behind Juneteenth, I, too, did not know the background of this important part of our history. And, lastly, thanks again for the daily and weekly moments of inspirations you share with us, what a blessing you are. Donna
–Hi Terry, I’m a long time reader and supporter. I had to write after seeing that a few of the readers feel that your recent posts regarding support for “Black Lives Matter” and LGBTQ+ civil rights were “divisive.” I didn’t know that being a voice for inclusion and acceptance and offering support for those among us who have been mistreated was now considered divisive. I also didn’t know that being a voice for exclusion and hate was now considered to be a unifying force. Wow, I guess I just missed the memo. Well, Terry, if being a voice for those of us who have been marginalized, devalued, harmed, and killed is an act of divisiveness then by all means please continue to be divisive. And thank you for helping us to remember that we are all children of God, that all of our lives matter, and that we are all welcome at God’s table. In solidarity… Ronald
POEMS AND PRAYERS
What humbugs we are, who pretend to live for Beauty,
and never see the Dawn! Logan Pearsall Smith
Silence is really vital to the human heart.
You see the human heart can’t live with
Constant sound or noise.
It needs silence in order to heal itself.
The only two things that are ultimately required for spiritual
homecoming are stillness and silence
If in your day you can build little windows of silence
and little windows of stillness
You will never lose touch with your deepest voice.
You will never lose touch with your most secret belonging.
Even though you walk and talk in the world
You will never leave the inner, tender home of your soul.
Charles William Golding (1931-2004)
Prayer for Presence
Let us be present to the now.
It’s all we have and it’s where God will always speak to us.
The now holds everything, rejects nothing and, therefore, can receive God too.
Help us, God, to be present to the place we most fear, because it always feels empty, it always feels boring, it always feels like it’s not enough.
Help us find some space within that we don’t try to fill with ideas or opinions. Help us find space so you, loving God, can show yourself in that place where we are hungry and empty. Keep us out of the way, so there is always room enough for you.
Good God, we believe that you are here and your presence gives us hope. We thank you for each day of our lives.
We thank you for so many further chances to understand, to forgive again, to trust again, and to love. We thank you that we live now, that our problems are soul-sized.
We ask that you teach us and lead us, that you put the thoughts into our mind that you want us to think, the feelings in our hearts that you want us to feel.
Reconstruct us. Put us together because we don’t know how to do it ourselves.
We trust that you are hearing this prayer, and that you care for the answer more than we do. We pray therefore not alone, but with the whole body of Christ in Jesus’s name.
Richard Rohr (The Wisdom Pattern)