There’s a story about a teenage boy mysteriously losing weight.
His doctor, stumped by the symptoms, huddled with several other caregivers to decide which medical tests to run. There was no shortage of assessments and opinions, and quarrels about who is correct.
Then a nurse asks the boy a simple question, “Are you hungry?”
The boy nods.
You see, it turns out that the young teen had been homeless for some weeks, and had eaten very little. Because of his condition, he had been understandably embarrassed to speak up, and was relieved someone had finally talked to him.
Yes. It matters when we know we are seen.
We can be grounded there.
And I do forget this. What with the push and pull of our world, easily racing by the moment (or putting it in a box of expectations), I forget to embrace the gift of connection. I forget that sanctuary and sufficiency is indeed alive and well inside of every one of us, embraceable in moments when we stop; allowing ourselves the permission to be here now (yes, even in times of imbalance).
Do you know the word Ubuntu? A Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity” often translated as “I am because we are,” and also “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a philosophical sense “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.” As chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Desmond Tutu used descriptive words to speak about Ubuntu intimately binding it within Christian principles of goodness. He describes the person true to Ubuntu as one who is “generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate.” He says it as a state in which one’s “humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up” in others. Tutu says of Ubuntu “I am human because I belong, I participate, I share.”
So, here’s the deal: that which grounds and sustains us is not something we need to earn or acquire. And because it is in our DNA, and is available to be celebrated and to be shared.
Speaking of sharing… today is Valentine’s Day. I can’t tell you how to celebrate, or what chocolate to buy and savor. But I can tell that our world needs the kind of love that each of us can freely give. Yes. Each one of us can help someone feel seen, validated, and worthy. Ubuntu indeed.
Here’s the deal: we are wired to care. To bring our whole self into this day.
We are wired to see in this life, this day, even in the very muddle of the ordinary, even in the very chaos of the ordinary gone awry, the permission to experience a whiff of the holy.
No, this is not easy to do in a world too often out of sorts.
Let’s begin with Albert Einstein’s reminder, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
So. What are the reminders that sustain, replenish, and nourish us?
In Sabbath Moment we talk a lot about the need for a paradigm shift. In this case, about how and where we tether our identity. We’re tempted to ask, “What do you do?” or “What did you achieve or accomplish today?”
Instead, what if we are invited to ask, “Where did you feel glad to be alive today?” and “What did your heart good, and made you smile?”
I’m re-reading May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep. “The first half hour of the morning I spend enjoying the air and watching for miracles.” Yes. So, tell me…
When did you give yourself the permission to pause, to stop, to linger and to savor the gift of today?
When did you give yourself the permission to enjoy the air and watch for miracles?
(And yes… it helps to remember that this is not a project or assignment or contest.)
I’m grateful for this from Kent Neburn’s book Small Graces. And it does my heart good… “I have walked a quiet path today… Do we really need much more than this? To honor the dawn. To visit a garden. To talk to a friend. To contemplate a cloud. To cherish a meal. To bow our heads before the mystery of the day. Are these not enough? If we should be so lucky as to touch the lives of many, so be it. But if our lot is no more than the setting of a table, or the tending of a garden, or showing a child a path in a wood, our lives are no less worthy. To do justice. To love mercy. To walk humbly with our God. To bring peace to the old. To have trust in our friends. To cherish the young. Sometimes, it seems, we ask too much. Sometimes we forget that the small graces are enough.”
And there’s this story, doing my heart good. A baby girl—born under the rubble of her family’s home in northern Syria after last week’s devastating earthquake (still connected to her mother by her umbilical cord)—is healthy and may soon leave the hospital. Sadly, her mother, father and all four of her siblings died after the quake. The infant, whose mother died after giving birth, was named Aya—Arabic for “a sign from God”—by hospital workers. She is being breastfed by the wife of the hospital’s director. And not surprisingly, thousands of people have offered to adopt the baby girl.
Our nemesis is clear: the notion that another life, a different life from the one I am living now, will take care of any problem.
In her memoir A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas wrote, “If only life were more like this, you will think, as you and the dogs traipse up to bed, and then you realize with a start that this is life.”
Yes and amen.
Embracing Albert Einstein’s reminder, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
So. This week, what are the reminders that sustain, replenish, and nourish us?
I feel both sides. The “crashing down” (personal and cultural) and the wish to “move on” or move past; and the permission to find the sacrament of the present moment, here, even in the fragile and broken places.
Of course, it begins with the invitation to Pause. My friend Lee Jaster introduced me to the Chuck Girard song, “Slooooooooow down…”
Or in the Wendell Berry poem, “Make a place to sit down. Sit down. Be quiet.”
Before we mount our steads to slay the dragons of discontent, let us rest.
Did you know that the first thing God called holy was not a place? It was time. The time to rest. In rest, in quiet, in Sabbath, we may be able to see prayer as living the moment with open hands and open heart. Open and awake to the wealth of life’s quirky offerings. In that space my heart can expand, to receive those parts of my life, all those parts… the messy, the uncertain, the doubts, the insecurity, the shadows. Just as Jesus made space for the disenfranchised. So too, there is room in my life and heart for the fragile things.
Thankfully, today, I have no compulsion to figure it out. An unexamined life may not be worth living, but an over examined life is hell. We scrutinize too much. Last night the stars in our sky were hypnotic. Did you see them? It was enough to say, “Looook.” Moonlight drenched the garden and pond. The night air is tranquil.
I really enjoyed 60 Minutes this week, an interview with Rick Rubin (American record producer and co-founder of Def Jam Recordings). He told Anderson Cooper, “If you start doing something with the goal to achieve (Gold records and awards) then you’re not focused on making this beautiful thing. It undermines the purity of the project.”
In other words, such “goals” (to achieve) can be distractions.
Watching, I was nodding my head and saying, “Amen”. And it returns us to this week’s reminder, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (Albert Einstein)
Rubin asked, “What awakens something in us?” And followed with, “Tap into something that makes you want to lean forward and pay attention.”
Yes, now we’re back to embracing the sacrament of the present. To be here now.
And in my reading this week, I took hold of reminders. To be awake. To pay attention. I’ll pass these along…
“To laugh often and much:
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children,
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others,
to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived.
This is to have succeeded.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Did I offer peace today?
Did I bring a smile to someone’s face?
Did I say words of healing?
Did I let go of my anger and resentment?
Did I forgive?
Did I love?
These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”
And my favorite, a sign in a Toronto Park, “PLEASE walk on the grass.”
Prayer for our week…
I, who live by words, am wordless when I try my words in prayer
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I try my words in prayer. All language turns
To silence. Prayer will take my words and then
Reveal their emptiness. The stilled voice learns
To hold its peace, to listen with the heart —
to silence that is joy, is adoration.
The self is shattered, all words torn apart
In this strange patterned time of contemplation
That, in time, breaks time, breaks words, breaks me,
And then, in silence, leaves me healed and mended.
I leave, returned to language, for I see
Through words, even when all words are ended.
I, who live by words, am wordless when
I turn me to the Word to pray. Amen.